What is a “Bottom” in Alcoholics Anonymous?

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hitting bottom

There are many phrases you will hear over and over in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). “Keep it simple.” “One day at a time.” “Let go and let God.”

“Hitting your bottom.”

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says, “Why all this insistence that every AA must hit bottom first? The answer is that few people will sincerely try to practice the AA program unless they have hit bottom. For practicing AA’s remaining eleven Steps means the adoption of attitudes and actions that almost no alcoholic who is still drinking can dream of taking. Who wishes to be rigorously honest and tolerant? Who wants to confess his faults to another and make restitution for harm done? Who cares anything about a Higher Power, let alone meditation and prayer? Who wants to sacrifice time and energy in trying to carry AA’s message to the next sufferer? No, the average alcoholic, self-centered in the extreme, doesn’t care for this prospect—unless he has to do these things in order to stay alive himself.”

The Big Book suggests that in order for alcoholics to truly throw themselves into the program and commit to all of the hard work that is required of them, they must hit a personal bottom. What exactly does this look like? Does your bottom occur when your beloved spouse files for divorce? When you lose your lucrative career to drinking; when you obtain your 5th DUI? When you find yourself locked up for vehicular manslaughter? Exactly how bad do things have to get before you make the decision to give sobriety a fair shot?

This answer varies significantly on a person-to-person basis. There is a saying that goes, “Your bottom occurs when you decide to stop digging.” The truth is, you can make the decision to recover at any point in time. You do not need to wait until the wheels fall off completely. For more information on seeking help for an alcohol use disorder, contact 12 Step Illinois today.

How Do I Know If I’ve Hit a Bottom?

An article published by the National Library of Medicine states, “The concept of ‘hitting bottom’ has been described for over 50 years, with the term mentioned for the first time in a paper on the treatment of alcohol addiction in 1965, which indicated people must ‘hit rock bottom’ before they may change. Endorsement of ‘hitting rock bottom’ has been identified as an important factor in treatment entry and was also associated with greater treatment compliance. Accordingly, hitting bottom remains a relevant concept for many individuals, yet it has never been operationally defined.” That is to say, only you can define your personal bottom. There is no distinct set of circumstances that qualify as a bottom. When things get bad enough — when the pain of continuing to drink becomes greater than the challenge presented by change — that is when you will stop.

Signs You’ve Hit a Bottom

You might have hit your personal bottom if:

  • You cannot imagine life with or without alcohol.
  • You are willing to go to any length necessary to successfully quit drinking.
  • You no longer care whether you live or die.
  • You have experienced an overdose or another life-threatening issue directly linked to your substance use.
  • You have become completely isolated from your friends and family members.
  • You no longer derive any joy from drinking.
  • You drink for relief and because you cannot stop on your own.

Is Alcoholics Anonymous Right For You?

Maybe you haven’t yet experienced external consequences as a direct result of your drinking. Your career is intact, your relationships seem fine, you are able to pay your bills on time. How can you tell whether or not your relationship with alcohol has taken a turn for the worse? Not everyone who struggles with problematic drinking patterns is an alcoholic. Some people who drink alcohol on a daily basis will be able to easily walk away from alcohol once a good enough reason presents itself. Others will slowly lose everything to alcohol over the period of years. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) outlines a list of diagnostic criteria that must be present in order for an individual to be officially diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder.

  • You begin to feel powerless over your relationship with alcohol. You can no longer control how often you drink or how much you drink.
  • You start to neglect activities that you previously enjoyed as a direct result of your alcohol use. You step away from a range of hobbies and social activities that used to be of interest to you.
  • You face problems at work or at home as a direct result of your drinking.
  • You continue to drink regularly despite related issues. These issues could be interpersonal, financial, legal, or health-related.
  • You have a desire to cut back on your alcohol use, but you find it difficult to do so despite repeated attempts to control your drinking.
  • You have been engaging in high-risk situations while under the influence, like driving while intoxicated or combining alcohol with other chemical substances.
  • You spend a significant amount of time obtaining alcohol, drinking alcohol, and recovering from the effects of alcohol.
  • You experience symptoms of withdrawal when you stop drinking suddenly (the symptoms of withdrawal are often confused for the symptoms of a bad hangover).
  • You will continue drinking in order to avoid the symptoms associated with a hangover (headaches, nausea, loss of appetite, dehydration, fatigue).
  • You have developed a tolerance over time, meaning you need to drink more than you used to in order to feel intoxicated.
  • You experience cravings for alcohol when you are not drinking and when alcohol is not readily accessible.

Entering into a 12 Step program like Alcoholics Anonymous following treatment often means the difference between continued sobriety and eventual relapse. If you or someone you love has completed a multi-staged treatment program in Illinois and would like to incorporate 12 Step meetings as part of their aftercare plan, 12 Step Illinois is available to help. Not only do we offer a comprehensive meeting guide, helping connect Illinois residents with 12 Step meetings in their area, but we are available to offer guidance to those who are still interested in finding a higher level of care. At 12 Step Illinois we have long-standing professional relationships with several reputable medical detoxification centers and residential treatment programs in the area. If you would like more information on how to get started on your personal journey of recovery, contact us today. We look forward to speaking with you soon and answering any additional questions you might have.

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