How Do I Know When I’ve Hit Bottom?

How Do I Know When I’ve Hit Bottom?

By: Stan Bumgarner

How Do I Know I’ve Hit Bottom?

How Do I Know I’ve Hit Bottom?
Hit Bottom: Those of us who experience increased physical tolerance for alcohol or drugs inevitably see an increase in our mental and emotional tolerance for pain, suffering and compromising our values.
You can’t predict when you will “Hit bottom.” For some the mere threat of failing out of school, losing our spouse, family support or a job is motivation enough to begin the process of recovery. For others the bottom is a much messier, deeper, darker place. Those of us who experience increased physical tolerance for alcohol or drugs inevitably see an increase in our mental and emotional tolerance for pain, suffering and compromising our values. This desensitization is an integral part of the denial system a person needs to sustain their drinking or drug use. It sounds like, “Sure, my wife left me, I got a DUI and I was fired, but I don’t see why everyone else is so upset.” Similarly, a comment I’ve heard among younger, opiate addicted patients who relapse within a matter of weeks is, “Sure, I’ve overdosed a few times. I’ve had some friends die from overdose, but I don’t really need to do all this recovery stuff. I just need to quit using.”

Exactly what does it take to cause surrender? The unfortunate reality is past, present or future consequences, no matter how dire, are often not enough to cause a person to hit bottom and choose the path of recovery. That’s because hitting bottom, reaching the point when enough is enough, is an extremely personal thing. Some people in recovery describe having a moment when the pain and fear of staying in active addiction was greater than the pain and fear they felt about the recovery process. But the best definition I’ve heard recently was from a patient who defined hitting bottom by saying, “It’s when bad things are happening to me faster than I can lower my standards.”


Stan Bumgarner graduated from Vanderbilt Divinity School in 2006 and worked for the Tennessee Association of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services teaching ministers across the state. This led him to become an alcohol and drug counselor. He is currently the Spiritual Director at Cumberland. Stan is a regular speaker at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Clarksville, the father of thirteen-year-old twins and active in his own 12-Step recovery.

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