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Low Self-Worth and Addiction: How to Make Counseling Effective in Recovery

by Ashley Smith

The way you view and value yourself as a person is your self-esteem. As you grow from childhood into a young adult, you begin to learn about what your worth is as a human, but sometimes things don’t always turn out as they should. Some people go through negative experiences or have poor influences in their life that can destroy their self-esteem, leaving them feeling less worthy of love and positivity. If you’ve struggled with recognizing your sense of personal value throughout your drug misuse, you’re not alone. The relationship between self-worth and addiction can impact someone’s ability to stay in recovery and rebuild their life. There are ways you can regain your confidence and take control of your substance use disorder.

Factors of Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem can take a toll on people in many ways, especially when it comes to their health. When someone doesn’t recognize their worth, they tend to prioritize other people and things before themselves. Sometimes those people and things can be negative, like abusive partners and dangerous drugs. On a regular day, you may present yourself as self-assured and functioning, but on the inside, you feel hopeless and hollow due to your persistent drug use. Mixing substances with low self-worth is dangerous because you do not see things as they really are, and therefore subjecting yourself to mistreatment from others.

One of the reasons that people with low self-esteem are at such high risk of addiction is because misusing substances can give temporary relief to negative feelings. The numbing of self-loathing feelings doesn’t last long, however, and after prolonged drug misuse, worse feelings come about. The vicious cycle of poor self-esteem and substance misuse will continue, leaving you where you started. Since your low self-esteem is centered on your emotional and psychological belief that you will always fail, you’ll never be good enough, and that you’re not worthy of trying, you may be discouraged to seek treatment to better yourself and your health.

Experiences that can cause low self-esteem:

  • Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
  • Combative household in childhood
  • Bullying
  • Being ignored
  • Expectations of perfection

Experiences that build healthy self-esteem:

  • Being treated with respect
  • Receiving attention and being listened to
  • Being accepted without expectations
  • Supportive peers and family
  • Having achievements recognized

Rebuilding Your Self-Esteem

If you’ve chosen to take the first step to break out of the addiction cycle by entering treatment, there are several steps you can take to help build your self-worth up, making the road to long-lasting recovery much smoother.

Forgive yourself: Addiction will fill you with self-blame and shame. You’ve probably been punishing yourself for longer than you realize. It’s time to forgive yourself for your past mistakes so you can move forward and make positive changes. Living in the past is only fuel for potential relapse. You are taking steps to get better and grow as a person, so let go of the person you were in the past.

Make changes: Do some life housekeeping. Clean up your list of friends and family that are around you. If someone is not supportive of your recovery or makes you doubt your worth and ability to succeed in treatment, it’s time to lessen your contact with them. This can be difficult, especially with a sibling or parents, but this is important for you to build yourself up without people who may sabotage your efforts surrounding you.

Use positive language: You probably don’t realize how much your language affects the way you think about yourself. Start eliminating “I can’t” from your vocabulary, and replace it with “I will” or “I’ll try.” Negative self-talk will only hinder your progress and is not encouraging for personal growth.

Take a compliment: Your previous self-deprecating nature has probably blinded you to your good qualities. Next time someone compliments you, don’t refuse it! Acknowledging other people’s kind words can do wonders for building your self-esteem, especially when you start believing them.

Accept challenges: Recovery won’t always be easy, but it will be worth it. Some days will be great and some not so much. Take the bad with the good, especially when you are faced with a challenging situation. Don’t back down to the challenge of sobriety either just because you think there’s no way you can handle it. Take things head-on with a can-do attitude.

Pace yourself: A black and white, all or nothing attitude is something that is closely related to relapse. Even if you don’t fully achieve all the goals you set for yourself in a day, week or year, you have to take your time. Don’t focus on what you didn’t accomplish; it can be destructive to your self-esteem. Instead, look at all the things you’ve done and feel proud of yourself.

Healthy self-esteem will also be a crucial tool in avoiding relapse. When you are feeling good about yourself, you will want to do better. The better you are doing, the less you will want to throw away all of your hard work by backsliding into drug use again. During the first few months of recovery, you may notice how important it is to have the good self-esteem to overcome some of the emotional low points that come with making these important changes.

When working on rebuilding your self-esteem in recovery, it’s important to find a sense of balance. For so long you have lived in a state of constant self-doubt and a false sense of self. Building up your confidence to make the changes needed to better your life is the first step to increasing your self-worth. Keep in mind that this journey will be slow and steady and nothing can be done overnight. You will have to commit to these changes and work on them with daily affirmations. You will no longer allow yourself to fall short of your potential or tolerate people who do not treat you respectfully, even yourself!


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Medically Reviewed By:

Health Care Resource Centers Clinical Team

Health Care Resource Centers Clinical Team

Health Care Resource Centers Clinical Team

The Clinical Team at Health Care Resource Centers is our team of physicians and medical directors within the organization. HCRC is a CARF accredited organization and has been providing addiction treatment services for over 32 years in the New England area.

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