Hitting Bottom

The phrase “hitting bottom” originated in the early days of AA, although it is not found in the text of the Big Book. Bill Wilson does use the term in Step One of Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions where he talks about “low bottom cases,” “raise the bottom,” and the idea that alcoholics must feel they have hit bottom before they will sincerely try to work the Program.

Jellinek Curve

Since Bill’s writing, some have described the progression of addiction and recovery, using a U-shaped curve based on the developmental model of E. M. Jellinek (1960). It shows a downward path as the addiction progresses, with vicious circles at the bottom, and then an upward path as recovery progresses. People try to fit themselves and others into such a model, describing how they can raise the bottom to avoid having to go all the way down.

Limits of the Model

The concept of hitting bottom made more sense in the early days of AA when most members were very late stage alcoholics. You don’t have to have a sense of hitting bottom in all areas of your life — physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual — to use the First Step as a tool.

We do think to get full use of Step One you have to believe you have exhausted all your own resources to control your addiction. With this sincere attitude you can go on to use the rest of the Steps to recover.

We think the Awareness Ratio, in the next module, is a better model than Hitting Bottom.


Hitting bottom, see also: Abstinence, Acceptance, Awareness Ratio, Bingeing, Crisis, Delusion, Half-measures, Honesty, Judgment, Moderation, Obsession,

Updated 9 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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