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Relationship between Low Self Esteem and Addiction


There is a close relationship between low self esteem and addiction. In many instances it will have been their low self esteem that allowed the individual to fall into substance abuse in the first place. It is also always the case that getting trapped in the downward spiral of addiction means that the person suffers further blows to their feelings of self worth. If the individual is to have any hope of breaking away from this self destructive behaviour for good, they will need to begin rebuilding their self esteem.

What is Self Esteem?

The term ‘self esteem’ has entered the general vocabulary, but it is not always clear what people mean when they use it. This is an idea that has originated in psychology, and it refers to the way that humans evaluate themselves. It is closely related to self worth. If a person has high self esteem it means that they value themselves very highly. This individual will benefit from a great deal of confidence, and they will be less likely to develop problems such as addiction. Other individuals have low self esteem, and this means that they do not value themselves very highly at all. This person will have no confidence, and they will be willing to put up with very little from life.

Negative Impact of Low Self Esteem

If people have low self esteem it will damage their ability to get the most out of life. The negative impact of this type of self evaluation will include:

  • If people do not value themselves very highly they will feel that they deserve less from life. This means that they will be willing to put up with bad things happening to them because they feel there is no other option.
  • It can mean that those individuals who fall into addiction not only feel powerless to stop the abuse, but that they do not even deserve to escape this miserable life.
  • In order to achieve something in life it will usually be necessary for the individual to have some self belief. Low self esteem means that the person will expect to fail even before they start, and this leads to a self fulfilling prophecy. The fact that this person has already accepted defeat means that they will not put in the necessary effort to improve their own situation.
  • This person will not value themselves highly so they are unlikely to put much effort into taking care of themselves.
  • They will struggle to trust anyone else. They just assume that other people think as little about them, as they think about themselves.
  • This person will be more willing to put up with abusive relationships and they will accept things in their life that should be unacceptable.

Addiction and Low Self Esteem

It is common for people who fall into addiction to be suffering from low self esteem to begin with. One of the reasons for why they become so attracted to alcohol and drugs is that initially those substances will seem to lift their self worth. When the person is inebriated they will feel confident and able to cope with anything that comes their way. The most usual reasons for why this person will have been dealing with low self esteem initially will include:

  • The person may have come from a home where there was physical or emotional abuse.
  • Bad parenting may mean that the individual has been taught to think of themselves as somehow less than other people. When children are not made to feel valued they grow up feeling as if they are worthless.
  • The person may have experienced some type of emotional trauma such as rape or being the victim of bullying.
  • The individual may have been the victim of some type of discrimination for their race, nationality, religion, or sexual persuasion.

When the individual first begins to use alcohol and drugs it will give them confidence, but this effect diminishes over time. The situation is often described by alcoholics as, alcohol gave me wings, but then it took away the sky. The individual develops a tolerance to alcohol and drugs, and this means that they have to keep on taking more and more to get the same effect. The more that the individual consumes the more negative effects they begin to experience in their life. This means that their self esteem falls even lower, and they get caught up in the vicious cycle of needing to keep on increasing their intake in order to try to escape the negative effects. When the individual finally becomes able to see where this behaviour is taking them, they will usually feel powerless to stop it.

Recovery and Increasing Self Esteem

In order for people to build a good life in recovery, it is vital that they are able to rebuild their self esteem. If they fail to do this, they are unlikely to have the strength to sustain their sobriety. The way that the individual is able to increase their self esteem in recovery includes:

  • When people first become sober they will have the opportunity to change their life around. Each success builds upon the next to create a snowball effect.
  • Giving up an addiction is a great achievement, and this will give the individual’s feeling of self worth a boost. They can then use this to give them the motivation to face other challenges, and when they achieve these this will further boost their self esteem.
  • If the individual belongs to some type of support network (such as a recovery fellowship) they will find that these people can offer them encouragement. The individual will usually find that their self esteem will rise faster when they have other people cheering them on.
  • The person learns that it was their behaviour that was negative and not that they were bad. This understanding means that the person can fully see that they deserve to live a good life and be happy.

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