Did you know that low self-esteem and substance use disorder (SUD) are interrelated? Low self-esteem is a powerful risk factor for developing SUD, especially in younger people like teens. SUD often comes with co-occurring mental health disorders, and while low self-esteem isn’t a mental health disorder itself, it may be a symptom of some. Treating SUD and co-occurring disorders simultaneously is crucial for successful recovery, so finding the root causes of low self-esteem and boosting it is also important when dealing with addiction.
What Is Self-Esteem?
The word “self-esteem” refers to how a person views their self-image and self-worth. Human beings develop perceptions about the self through a developmental process. Most times, our judgments about ourselves are heavily influenced by parents, significant others, and peers in life. Although one’s self-esteem may “fluctuate” depending on the situation, some people experience consistently low self-esteem.
Low self-esteem gives people the self-perception of being inadequate, incompetent, unlovable, or unworthy. Other signs of low self-esteem include self-consciousness in social situations, hyper-obsession with relationships with others, frequent feelings of defeat when faced with setbacks, and chronic indecisiveness.
The causes for these negative self-perceptions include childhood trauma, parental neglect, abuse, bullying, and negative peer pressure. Even adults may suffer heavy blows to their self-esteem after going through friend or family betrayals, divorce, or job loss in mid-life.
What Harm Does Low Self-Esteem Bring?
People with chronic symptoms of low self-esteem may change their behaviors to accommodate their feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness. They may find life purposeless and lack motivation in school or work. Some people may compensate for their low self-esteem by placing too much emphasis on getting ahead of others. In either case, low self-esteem often impedes people’s entry into healthy and deep relationships.
Because people with low self-esteem tend to seek external sources for their sense of security, they may not understand the need to awaken and strengthen their inner selves. Their relationships tend to evolve with co-dependent dynamics, and these dysfunctions further aggravate potential emotional and mental health issues. For example, among young girls, low self-esteem and obsession with body image are highly related to eating disorders and drug use.
Why Do People With Low Self-Esteem Turn to Substances?
People with chronic low self-esteem may consider the effects of drugs and alcohol as a form of external (but artificial) support for them to feel or perform better. Substance use can help dull the pain of loneliness and dissatisfaction. People might become braver or more talkative after using drugs or alcohol to fit in and socialize with their peers.
Although the chemical impacts of drugs and alcohol may temporarily help people cope with feelings of inadequacy, when these effects fade, they may sink into depression and sadness. As they develop a strong dependence on substances—which can lead to SUD—low self-esteem and these mental health issues can spiral and worsen each other.
How Do You Support a Loved One to Improve Self-Esteem?
If you sense that a loved one’s SUD is related to their low self-esteem issues, there are ways to help. First, you can help your loved one understand the deeper causes behind their consistent low self-esteem. Remind them that although family and personal history and the voice of society can have a big impact on them, they can still decide on who they are.
For adolescents and teenagers, bullying or peer pressure at school may be factors. Parents should talk with them about how to face challenging situations while maintaining the power to be their unique selves. Self-esteem is about who an individual thinks they are, not who anyone else says they are. You can help your loved one get help from mental health professionals who have proven methods to address low self-esteem.
How Can Health Professionals Help?
For people struggling with both SUD and low self-esteem, health professionals may recommend cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This evidence-based treatment helps recovering individuals re-examine the negative self-talk that controls the mind in the form of problematic, self-deprecating, and judgmental thoughts.
Many addiction treatment facilities coach recovering individuals on how to express negative feelings through CBT and other methods, including trauma-focused therapy, family-based therapy, motivational interviewing, harm reduction treatment, art therapy, and life skills coaching. By interacting with health professionals who value them and affirm their worth, people can begin to hold themselves in higher regard.
After treatment, encourage your loved one to stay connected with a strong recovery community. Recovery peers who understand your loved one’s struggles can help them overcome thoughts that damage their self-esteem and help them see their inherent value as a person. This can benefit their sobriety journey as well as their mental health journey.
If you have a loved one whose addiction is related to low self-esteem, both conditions should be treated at the same time. These two conditions are related, and they need your support to recover from both. Luckily, there is professional help and support available. At Laguna Shores Recovery, our experienced mental health professionals can treat people with SUD and co-occurring mental health issues, plus coach and support family members to support their loved ones. Embracing a trauma-informed approach, we examine the deep root causes behind SUD, such as self-esteem. Our family-based therapy can help restore relationships in the home. We will walk alongside you and your loved one as they continue their recovery and rebuilds their social life. Call us today to discover how you can be part of our community. For more information, call us today at (866) 229-9923.