Forcing Anyone to Hit Bottom Can Be a Death Sentence

Family at the Golden Gate BridgeToday is a reprint about tough love from a Facebook page. David Sheff writes about his struggle with this concept and the help he received from Al Anon. I agree that forcing others to hit bottom may be pronouncing a death sentence. I have seen hundreds of people over these 39+ years to be helped by repeated interventions and being court-ordered to recovery.

From David Sheff- the following is an excerpt–read the whole post at the link.

“I’ve edited this post. After reading some comments, I understand that I didn’t clearly express what angered me. My anger is toward the archaic and harmful view of those who tell people — who *insist* — that an addict must hit bottom before he or she can begin recovery.

It began yesterday. A father had written. He was in anguish. He told me that he had kicked his son out of the house. He’d been told that he had to have no communication with his son. He was told that he had to stop helping him in any way. He was told that his son had to be left isolated and alone so he would hit bottom.

The dad didn’t want to do it, but nothing else had worked. His son had relapsed again and again after a number of treatment programs. He said that he’d been told again and again that he was co-dependent and was contributing to his son’s addiction. And so, desperate and resigned and heartbroken, he shut the door on his son and told him that he’d have nothing further to do with him until– unless his child was clean and sober for a substantial period of time. When my son was using, I’d heard the same thing. Some rehab counselors and parents in Al-Anon meetings said that Nic had to hit bottom and drag himself into treatment if ever he would get and stay sober. More than once, I was told that I had to sever ties with Nic until he’d been clean for a year.

I didn’t know what to do. Like so many others, the father and I were desperate. Over time, I had been indoctrinated by counselors, therapists, and people in 12 step groups who espouse the concept of hitting bottom. They insisted on it. Anything short of allowing an addict to hit bottom is, they said, codependent and contributing to the addiction.

But Al-Anon doesn’t advocate this approach. Al-Anon is wonderful –it helped me. It doesn’t tell us to let a child or spouse or other loved one live on the street. It doesn’t tell us to give them ultimatums or cut off contact with them. My understanding of the program is that it can help us learn to take better care of ourselves and separate helping from enabling. In those meetings, we can learn from one another’s experiences, learn about addiction, learn how it can destroy families and how we must take care of and protect ourselves, and we can support one another. As far as I understand it, though, Al-Anon doesn’t advocate forsaking our addicted children, closing the door on them, and waiting for a catastrophe that will get them into treatment–if it doesn’t kill them. In Twelve Step meetings, some addicts in recovery do say they had to be allowed to hit bottom as a prerequisite to their recovery. It’s important to remember that it may have worked for them. However, it doesn’t for many. ANd it’s dangerous to assume that it will.

Over and over, in program after program, we’re told that we must kick our loved ones out and isolate them in order to get them into treatment, that they must hit bottom and drag themselves into treatment if ever they’ll fully embrace recovery. This warped and dangerous definition of tough love is killing people. Maybe instead of trusting the counselors and others who espouse hitting bottom, we should trust our instincts: Of course we must help a loved one who’s ill get into treatment. We must do everything we can. People say that addicts must want to go into treatment in order for them to stop using. It’s not true; research confirms that whatever brings a person into treatment, he or she has the same likelihood of getting and staying sober.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t set boundaries — we must protect ourselves and other family members. There are many circumstances in which it’s harmful and potentially dangerous to have a using addict living at home. It can be traumatic for parents and siblings. And we don’t want a child in their bedroom using drugs. But nor do we want a child on the streets. We want them safe. On the streets, their drug use will probably continue and it may escalate before they hit bottom. They may never hit bottom. The consequences can be catastrophic.”

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