Understanding the link between self-esteem and addiction recovery is a vital component of becoming free of substances.
A great deal of research by psychologists has repeatedly found a high correlation between drug abuse and low self-esteem.
Addiction is rooted in mental health disorders, and self-esteem is intrinsically linked to mental health.
To achieve long-term sobriety it is necessary to improve self-esteem and healthier thought patterns to prevent relapse.
What Is Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem is our sense of self-worth. It is the way that we talk to ourselves consciously, subconsciously, and unconsciously.
To define self-respect or self-esteem, the American psychologist Abraham Maslow identified two types: the need for internal self-appreciation, self-worth, and external appreciation, respect, and approval from others.
Maslow’s theory of the Hierarchy of Needs believes that for humans to achieve self-actualization they must satisfy the most basic needs such as food and water, shelter, warmth, and safety. Maslow identified self-esteem as one of the most basic needs.
Self-esteem encompasses positive or negative beliefs we have about ourselves such as “I am unlovable,” or “the world is a dangerous place.” We can have negative self-beliefs without being aware of them.
Signs of High Self-Esteem
When we have high self-esteem we feel comfortable and confident in ourselves. We aren’t afraid to socialize with people and stand up for ourselves assertively when necessary.
Signs that someone has high self-esteem can also include:
- Willing to admit mistakes
- Expresses themselves freely
- Tolerates frustrations well
- Seeks challenges
- Sunny outlook and positive disposition
Signs of Low Self-Esteem
When a person has low self-esteem they feel down on themselves, believe that no one cares and that everyone is better than them.
Other signs of low self-esteem include:
- Seek approval from others
- Constantly apologizing
- Blaming others
- Overreacting to situations
- Putting themselves down
- Poor problem-solving ability
- Difficulty making decisions
What Causes Low Self-Esteem?
Low self-esteem often starts in childhood. As children, we may receive negative and positive messages from friends, relatives, teachers, and the media.
Certain personalities can be prone to low self-esteem. Personality types such as introverts and neurotic people can tend to have a more negative self-image.
Parents can have a major impact on a child’s self-esteem. A child who is continually scolded, sexually abused, neglected, or ridiculed may feel that they are not good enough. These feelings of inadequacy may continue into adult life and become the root cause of negative patterns of thoughts and behavior.
Poor academic achievement or being bullied at school can also create feelings of inadequacy in a child.
These childhood experiences are referred to as ‘adverse childhood experiences” (ACEs).
Factors That Cause High Self-Esteem
Positive parenting techniques such as talking to children respectfully, making them feel heard, acknowledging achievements, and accepting mistakes help to build high self-esteem.
High academic achievement at school also boosts a child’s self-esteem as the competitive nature of grading causes children to compare themselves with others.
At school, children who are extroverted and popular have high self-esteem as they receive positive criticism, love, and support from their peers.
The Link Between Self-Esteem and Addiction
The survey results found that inmates with a history of addiction, theft, and prostitution had low levels of self-esteem in contrast to the control group.
A study on Greek university students also found a high correlation between self-esteem and substance use. Students who exercised regularly tended to abstain from drugs and alcohol. And students who did use substances tended to because their peers did.
Taking drugs and drinking because your friends do can be a sign of a negative core belief of being not good enough. Some people drink and take drugs to feel more confident socially and may feel more accepted when partaking in substance use together.
A Nigerian study discovered a link between self-esteem, stress, and substance use disorder. Building self-esteem is crucial in recovering from addiction, as high self-esteem is associated with an ability to tolerate stressful situations rather than turn to substances.
Why Is Self-Esteem Important in Recovery?
The previously mentioned Nigerian study highlights how a person with high self-esteem can manage their emotions and behaviors. Ability to manage one’s thoughts and emotions
Remaining abstinent from substances in the long-term requires an ability to de-escalate negative thought processes.
A relapse is not a single event, it is a process.
The stages of relapse are initiated by stressful emotions caused by an emotional trigger. A person with high self-esteem can identify these emotions as they are triggered and can calm themselves down before they move closer to relapse.
For example, a person with low self-esteem may start to feel stressed when someone gets promoted over them. Triggered feelings of inadequacy from childhood can spiral into more thoughts and feelings of not being good enough. As the thoughts and emotions spiral on, they may need to take substances such as tobacco, drugs, and drink to numb the painful emotions.
A person with high self-esteem on the other hand responds to feelings of rejection more healthily. They tell themselves that they still have valuable skills and attributes, but the person deserves the promotion because they’ve worked hard. They will accept it and move on, even if they feel a little dejected by the failure to get promoted.
How To Improve Self-Esteem
Raising our self-esteem takes a bit of work.
We need to go inside and understand what our negative core beliefs are and challenge them. Every individual likely has a negative core belief of some sort.
Working with a skilled therapist can help you to identify what drives your anxiety and causes you to react to certain situations, places, and people.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is an evidence-based talking therapy. It involves identifying the negative automatic thoughts that arise when we encounter certain people, places, and things.
The laddering technique is a powerful method of deducting where negative core beliefs originate in a person’s history. A person keeps a diary of stressful situations and notes down what they think and feel. Over time a pattern emerges. Laddering gets the person to challenge each thought and identify where it comes from.
Once a person has successfully identified those negative core beliefs (there could be more than one). They can then challenge negative thoughts as they arise and replace them with positive thoughts.
Repeating this process over some time will eventually become a positive habit and have a profound impact on a person’s self-esteem.
Exercise can help mental health in several ways. First, physical exercise is a natural antidepressant. A high-intensity 20-minute can release high levels of the feel-good chemicals endorphins and dopamine.
The positive high that exercise produces acts as natural anxiety relief and lifts a person’s mood so that they feel in a sunnier position.
Exercise also improves a person’s self-image. Regular exercise helps a person to lose excess weight, tone muscle, and skin condition. This can have a positive impact on a person’s self-esteem.
Physical exercise is also a great antidote to feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. When we are upset or angry, a long walk in the countryside can help to de-escalate spiraling negative thought patterns.
Eat A Healthy Diet
Eating a healthy diet full of vitamins, minerals, and protein such as the Mediterranean diet can help to improve mood and manage stress.
It is believed that the gut contains serotonin receptors. This is termed the gut-brain axis.
Protein can help to relieve feelings of anxiety and depression. Vitamins and minerals nourish the body’s cells and promote homeostasis.
When you manage stressful situations successfully you improve your self-esteem.
It’s easy to fall into a trap when working on our self-esteem. Building self-esteem can simply mean being kind to yourself.
If you are angry at someone you may simultaneously feel shame. Self-acceptance of your feelings is vital to managing anger. If you swing from anger to shame you never get to find the balance. So rather than thinking, “I’m a bad person for being angry” try thinking, “I understand why I feel angry and will sit with these feelings until they pass.”
Being kind to yourself means relating to yourself, and accepting that not one person on this earth is perfect.
It’s easy to slip into negative conversations with ourselves and not realize. We may be saying to ourselves, “you idiot” or “you’re a terrible person.” Paying attention to those negative thoughts is crucial.
Mindfulness techniques can help to maintain a positive outlook as they get us to pay attention to our inner selves.
Yoga, meditation, journaling, writing poetry, singing, and even hiking in the outdoors are all forms of mindfulness that help us to stay connected with ourselves.
Learning To Respect Yourself in Recovery
When you attend a quality treatment center like The District Recovery Community Recovery you will get access to the best cognitive therapies, mindfulness techniques, and learn the relationship between self-esteem and addiction.
Treatment is a golden opportunity to finally establish the negative thoughts that seem to sabotage your chances of a great life.
Addiction recovery is possible, no matter how severe your problem. Many have been in worse situations and are managing to stay substance-free and build their self-esteem.
For your chance to learn to respect yourself and start building your self-esteem, call the staff District Recovery Community at 844.287.8506. They are waiting for your call.