No Hard Definition of ‘Rock Bottom’

June 19, 2023

Rock Bottom, Rock,

Are you hip to Elmo’s feud with a pet rock named Rocco? Elmo, the red furry monster of Sesame Street fame, finds himself frequently losing his temper when faced with the demands of Rocco as presented by Elmo’s friend Zoe. As Elmo likes to remind anyone who will listen, Rocco is a rock!

Rocks are, in general, pretty easy to understand. While the idea that a rock is a solid mass of geological materials might not roll right off your tongue, as a rule, we know a rock when we see one. And we know its likely characteristics—especially the fact that rocks tend to be hard. (They also tend not to need a turn on the swing, tend not to eat cookies, and tend not to need potty breaks, which are some of the many ways Rocco’s antics annoy poor Elmo.)

Given how easy it is to recognize a rock, you would think that a phrase like “rock bottom” would be quite easy to define. Indeed, most of us would probably say that rock bottom is a place from which you can go no deeper. You have hit the solid rock at the bottom, and you can go no further down.

But folks who use the phrase “rock bottom” to talk about substance use disorders are often using the term in a surprisingly squishy way. 

When a Rock Isn’t a Rock at All

Like Elmo, we are sure that Rocco is a rock. We are less convinced that people are being honest with themselves when they talk about rock bottom.

Here’s what often happens. A person who is using drugs or alcohol starts to worry that maybe they are developing a problem (or maybe they don’t recognize a potential problem but someone close to them expresses concern). Upon reflection, they might decide that no, they don’t have a problem–after all, they haven’t “hit rock bottom.” 

But what does that mean?

Well, it might mean that the person will acknowledge they have a drug or alcohol issue if they start to experience gaps in their memory. Fair enough. Rock bottom means memory gaps.

But then the person starts having memory issues, and suddenly the rock is not so solid. They decide they will seek help for a substance use disorder if they ever get belligerent after taking drugs or drinking. Fair enough. Rock bottom means spoiling for a fight.

But then the person gets in a fight, and suddenly the rock is not so solid. They decide they will go to treatment if they start having financial problems related to their substance use. Fair enough. Rock bottom means financial struggles.

We could keep going down and down and down in search of the elusive “rock bottom,” but we suspect you get the idea.

A Rock is a Rock and a Problem is a Problem

We mentioned earlier that most of us know a rock when we see one. And if we are being honest with ourselves, most of us can recognize a problem when we see one, too.

That means the odds are pretty good that a person may be aware they have a problem with drugs or alcohol well before they are willing to admit this to themselves or to anyone else. 

Perhaps you are in that situation—or you know someone who is. If so, our advice to you or your loved one is simple: The best time to get help for a substance use is always right now. Waiting for a mythical condition known as rock bottom just delays the process of getting the help you need to reclaim your sobriety and your quality of life. 

When It Comes to Helping You Get Sober, We Are Steady as a Rock

When you are struggling with a substance use disorder, it can feel as though your life is in freefall. It is hard to get your feet underneath you so that you can take stock and make quality choices that will change things for the better.

Let us propose a rock-solid solution: Get yourself into treatment. At Farley Center in Williamsburg, VA, we offer personalized treatment for substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health disorders. We will see you through detoxification and rehabilitation—and then offer ongoing support via our continuum of care

A substance use disorder can make it seem as though you are in a feud with yourself. We can help you put that internal struggle behind you.