Self-Esteem and Addiction

Self-esteem is the way you perceive yourself and your worth as a person. If you have healthy self-esteem, you probably assess yourself accurately, acknowledging your weaknesses and strengths without judging yourself and understanding that you’re a worthy human being despite your flaws.

But if you have low self-esteem, your self-worth is likely closely tied to the ups and downs of daily living: if you bomb a test, you feel like you’re stupid and worthless, and a simple rejection can send you into a frenzy of self-loathing. Low self-esteem is tied to all-or-nothing thinking—one negative event can lead you to believe your entire existence is worthless.

Self-esteem and Substance Abuse and Addiction

Low self-esteem is associated with depressive symptoms and other mental health problems. A study in the Netherlands Journal of Psychology found that self-esteem is related to academic achievement, social functioning and mental health, with adolescents exhibiting low self-esteem experiencing more anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

Although very little research has been conducted to examine the explicit relationship between self-esteem and addiction, people who have mental illnesses that are associated with low self-esteem, such as anxiety and depression, are more likely to use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate, which often leads to addiction. Additionally, a study published in the Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology found that hope, optimism and high self-esteem are essential factors for avoiding substance abuse.

Many people use drugs to feel better about themselves, increase their self-confidence and feel more relaxed and satisfied with life, and the University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center indicates that low self-esteem may lead to an increased vulnerability to drug and alcohol abuse.

Addressing Self-esteem Issues in Treatment

Despite the lack of definitive research on self-esteem and addiction, treatment therapies in rehab put a great deal of focus on helping those with an addiction increase their self-esteem to help improve the chances of recovery. Low self-worth can lead to ambivalence toward sobriety, and the less engaged someone is in treatment, the less effective it will be.

Improving self-esteem can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety as well, and since these mental disorders are potent triggers for substance use and relapse, combatting low self-esteem is crucial for relapse prevention after treatment.

During treatment, the complex issues behind low self-esteem are identified and addressed. These may be some of the same issues that contribute to substance abuse, including harsh criticism or abuse during childhood, suffering ridicule in school or being held to extremely high standards at home, work or school.

Ways to Improve Self-Esteem

Through treatment for a substance use disorder, various therapies will help you learn how to challenge the negative messages your inner voice sends. You’ll confront your destructive ways of thinking about yourself and learn to stop catastrophizing, or thinking that even small setbacks are major problems. You’ll practice treating yourself with empathy and compassion, foregoing self-judgment and accepting yourself the way you are.

Increased self-esteem is an important part of addiction treatment that will help you develop an overall healthy self-concept, which in turn can lead you to make better choices for your life, improve your sense of hope and optimism and help you maintain long-term sobriety.