Needing to hit “rock bottom” is a myth. True “rock bottom” is death, but people with addiction can hit multiple “rock bottoms’: loss of job, loss of kids, jail time, unintentional overdose.

Addiction research continues to change the way we look at substance abuse and treatment. We used to think a confrontational approach was the most successful in getting people into recovery; we now know that it is not. Compassion and understanding is much more helpful than shaming someone into recovery. We have also learned that “rock bottom” is far from necessary and actually quite dangerous.

However, I have learned that it often takes significant loss or obvious negative consequences for people to recognize the impact their addiction is having on their life. A prime example would be affluent adolescents and young adults. Youth that grow up with privilege, which often excludes natural consequences, may not make the connection between their use and negative outcomes. If parents continually protect their kids from the consequences of their actions, they may continue down a dangerous path, because their opportunity to learn is often taken away from them.

So what does this mean?

If your child or young adult gets arrested, don’t bail them out. If your kid gets in trouble at school, let them deal with the full consequences of their behavior. Don’t turn a blind eye if you know your child is using alcohol or drugs, of course; if you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. But don’t throw money at the problem, either, whether that be bribing your kids with material items or allowing them to have a car even when they exhibit irresponsible behavior.

Many kids go through an “experimental” stage and grow out of it, but some don’t. And many who go through this phase of curiosity and come out the other side may not do so unscathed. Drunk driving, sexual assault, academic issues and other dangers occur more often than many parents would like to believe.

But it is rare, in my experience (offering treatment in jails, prisons, outpatient clinics, outh residential facilities and in private practice) for individuals under 30 to hit any type of “rock bottom,” and most of them started using in their teens. Studies have shown that the brain is not fully developed until at least 25 years old. Before 25, drugs, alcohol and an underdeveloped brain do not lead to accurate and intelligent decision making.

Whether you are an adult dealing with addiction or the parent of a child who is abusing substances, do not wait for a “rock bottom.” Reach out for help before things get anywhere near that.

Teal Bohrer is a psychotherapist specializing in addiction treatment.  Born and raised in Lake Oswego, she now has a local private practice where she sees adolescents and adult for a variety of issues.

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