Sometimes it takes a life-threatening event to convince a person that it’s time to make a serious life change. When an individual’s own actions threaten their very existence, it can jar their sense of complacency and motivate them to do something about it. That’s frequently what drives many people to finally seek help for managing their substance addiction to drugs, alcohol, or even tobacco. It’s all too easy to get used to using a substance we know has the potential for harm, but often quite challenging to stop until a near-fatal encounter moves us to action.
In a recent article, the New York Times reported on someone whose smoking addiction triggered a stroke that nearly took their life. Each year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that about 480,000 people lose their lives because of a smoking-related condition. While most people who smoke today are well aware of the health risks associated with smoking, they continue to smoke. Why? Because smoking is highly addictive and, like other forms of substance addiction, can be extremely difficult to stop.
Of course, smoking isn’t the only addictive habit that can lead to near fatal and fatal experiences. Substance addiction is a leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. and in many other countries around the world. In recent years, there has been an increase in emergency room visits related to alcohol abuse. National Public Radio reported that emergency room visits due to alcohol abuse soared from 2006-2014, resulting in an eight percent increase. During the COVID-19 pandemic, ER visits related to alcohol use rose sharply again. Each year, more than 88,000 people lose their lives because of alcohol.
Another sobering statistic from the CDC: More than 932,000 people have died from a drug overdose in the U.S., and 82 percent of these deaths involved opioids. In fact, last year, opioid-related ER visits rose again. Many emergency room visits involve people who have a substance abuse problem or are suffering from a substance addiction. Unfortunately, only a fraction of those who suffer from addiction choose to seek treatment.
Even so, many who have nearly died because of an event related to their addiction view the experience as a wake-up call, the motivation they needed to end their dependency. A close call with death can be the change agent some people need to finally do something about their condition and seek help. But why do people wait to hit “rock bottom” before getting help?
The Rock Bottom Turning Point
For decades, the idea that a person with an addiction has to hit rock bottom in order to change has been so common that it’s nearly a cliche. But is it true? Do you have to find yourself hooked up to a respiratory pump, in a jail cell, or in divorce court in order to stop using drugs or alcohol? The truth is—that is often what it takes for a person to change the trajectory of their life path. Hitting the proverbial wall, so to speak, forces them to turn in a different direction. For many, that brick wall is a stroke of luck. However, a person doesn’t truly need to experience a near-death or catastrophic life event in order to stop using and enter rehab for help. They can simply wake up one day and take that first step, make that call to a treatment center.
Near Fatal Encounters: Catalysts for Change
One of the major aspects of substance addiction is that it is governed by compulsion. Automatic thoughts and behaviors have a way of driving the individual to keep using, keep satisfying their triggers (i.e. stress or negative emotions) by using drugs or alcohol. In short, people get stuck in a rut of thinking and behaving that is unhealthy. But that rut is filled with metaphorical quicksand. Without a nearby branch (local addiction rehab), they’ll find it tough to pull themselves out, and so long as they haven’t gone under, they stay put, continuing to use as a matter of daily living and daily habit.
When a serious event occurs such as a heart attack, car accident, arrest, or departing spouse, those automatic thoughts and behaviors wind up on hold. Everything seems to stop. In that space where life steps in with a near-fatal encounter or a tragic, life-changing experience, a person often experiences moments of clarity. It’s in those moments that they can make the choice to stop using the substances that have wreaked havoc on their life.
We Don’t Have to Wait for a Critical Moment to Make a Change
Crisis can be extremely motivating, but it’s also extremely risky to wait for a wake-up call like a near-fatal experience. Each day, if we’re observant, we learn from the experiences of others. We know to stay buckled into the roller coaster ride seat because we’ve read the headlines about unbuckled people who have fallen out. We buckle our car seats because we know that wearing one saves lives. We don’t have to have been bitten by a stray dog to know that one should approach them with caution.
The sobering statistics that are published each year about smoking, alcohol, and drug-related deaths aren’t merely numbers, of course. It behooves us to remember that these are people, many very much like us, who went to amusement parks to ride roller coasters, let us merge into their highway lane, or took in a stray dog. Every life lost is a poignant loss. But it doesn’t have to continue–not for you. You don’t have to wait for rock bottom to seek help making the change you need to safeguard your life and everything important to you.
How to Seek Help for Change When You Want to Turn from Addiction
A person in the throes of addiction is truly under duress. That feeling of compulsion we mentioned earlier can be utterly powerful and devastating to a person’s sense of self empowerment. Feeling as though one can’t stop using even for the sake of their loved ones can be overwhelming and nightmarish. Coupled with intense withdrawal symptoms, the struggle to quit is often met with failure–when a person tries to stop using on their own.
The best way to stop using drugs or alcohol is to enroll in a quality addiction treatment program like FHE Health. You wouldn’t operate on your own heart if you became debilitated by chest pains. You wouldn’t, hopefully, make your own penicillin if you developed bronchitis. The same principle applies to the disease of substance addiction.
Enrolling in an addiction rehab program is an important first step toward successful recovery. At FHE Health, we offer treatment for substance use disorders as well as mental health conditions. Don’t wait for rock bottom. Contact FHE Health today to start feeling better.