Rehab 4 Addiction

The Connection Between Self-esteem and Addiction

Experts in the field of addiction have understood that there is a link between self-esteem and addiction for some time now, due to a number of studies that support that conclusion. [1]

In this blog post, we explore what self-esteem is, how it might be connected to addiction, and what this means for people going through addiction and recovery.

What is self-esteem?

Self-esteem, also known as self-worth, refers to a person’s feelings about him- or herself.

If someone has high self-esteem, it means that they have a good opinion of themselves; low self-esteem means that they have a negative opinion of themselves.

Someone with high self-esteem is likely to feel comfortable in their own skin, confident, and happy. Someone with low self-esteem, by contrast, may feel self-conscious, experience feelings of worthlessness, and be generally unhappy.

What are the signs of high self-esteem?

There are lots of different signs of good self-esteem. We list some of the main ones below:

  • Capacity to see things from various viewpoints, including strengths and weaknesses
  • Embracing imperfection
  • Feeling happy to accept who you are
  • Capable of getting constructive criticism and feedback
  • Not needing to seek approval from others
  • Voicing your needs, wants, and opinions
  • Keeping positive, even in the face of difficulties
  • The capacity to say no
  • Being confident, without being egotistical
  • Accepting failure and problems as a necessary part of life
  • Feeling comfortable in one’s own skin

If lots of these signs apply to you, then good job! You have high self-esteem.

What are the signs of low self-esteem?

Low self-esteem can manifest itself in lots of different ways. There are certain things that are common to lots of people who suffer from low self-esteem, such as:

  • Comparing yourself to others
  • Spending too much time thinking about your own flaws, as opposed to your good points
  • Finding it difficult to communicate what you want and need
  • Being terrified of failure, and yet constantly expecting it
  • Lack of confidence
  • Pessimistic outlook and defeatist attitude
  • Inability to see things from other viewpoints
  • Putting yourself down
  • Feeling like other people are superior to you
  • Finding it hard to take criticism

If you find that lots of these signs apply to you, then you may suffer from low self-esteem. If so, then you may want to think about why that is the case.

You may also want to talk to someone about it. There are lots of therapy options you can look into if you have low self-esteem. We go through these later in the article.

Why is having good self-esteem necessary?

Self-esteem is crucial to all sorts of things, from relationships to mental health, to careers.

Whereas someone with high self-esteem is likely to be successful in their relationships, someone with low self-esteem may feel that they do not deserve to be loved.

Someone with high self-esteem is likely to be happier. In order to be happy, we need to feel comfortable and relaxed in ourselves. Someone with low self-esteem may find it difficult to be happy for this reason.

When someone has good self-esteem, they are more likely to achieve their ambitions. Someone with low self-esteem may feel that they do not deserve to achieve their ambitions.

Generally speaking, people with low self-esteem prevent themselves from reaching happiness or fulfilment, because they feel that they are unworthy of attaining these things. This is why low self-esteem is so damaging.

What is the connection between self-esteem and addiction?

If you have low self-esteem, you are likely to have little confidence in achieving your future plans. You are also likely to feel worthless, and struggle to maintain positive relationships.

Considering that alcohol and drugs provide a short-term form of happiness, they offer a tempting escape. People with high self-esteem may drink in moderation, knowing that they do not need alcohol to make them feel happy and confident in themselves.

People with low self-esteem may be tempted to drink to greater excess, using alcohol to distract themselves from their own self-hatred.

Furthermore, given that alcohol and drugs lead to long-term damage to health, finances and relationships, they help people with low self-esteem to sabotage themselves.

Instead of being happy, and achieving the things they want to achieve, people with low self-esteem may turn to drugs or alcohol in the belief that they are worthless, and the negative consequences of alcohol and drug use are exactly what they deserve.

Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth. No one deserves to ply their body with alcohol and drugs until they reach an early grave.

But that is the myth which people with very low self-esteem may be tempted to buy into: that they do not deserve a happy life, only addiction and loneliness.

Working on self-esteem as part of recovery from addiction

Given that there is a connection between low self-esteem and addiction, one of the things you need to do in recovery is trying to improve your self-esteem.

Doing so will set you on course for a successful, long-lasting recovery.

So, how can you improve your self-esteem during recovery? Here are some ideas:

  • Set goals for yourself, such as staying sober for a week, or a month, or taking up a new hobby. Achieving those goals will help to reinforce the idea that you are capable of making plans and acting on them
  • Read books or listen to audiobooks by successful people, especially people who have gone through addiction problems in the past. Hearing stories from inspirational people can help you to believe in your own capabilities
  • Go through therapy, especially motivational interviewing. Motivational interviewing is one of the best forms of therapy for improving self-esteem. See below for more detail
  • Write down positive statements about yourself. This is a way to remind yourself that you have good qualities, such as kindness, or open-mindedness. Try to say these statements out loud every day
  • When someone compliments you, don’t dismiss it. Most of the time, people are being honest when they pay you a compliment. So simply smile, say thank you, and reflect on what that compliment says about you
  • Forgive yourself for things you did wrong in the past. People with low self-esteem often feel guilty for mistakes they made. But we all make mistakes. Forgiving yourself allows you to move on
  • Make sure to do an act of kindness every day. If you have low self-esteem, you may believe that you are a bad person. But the chances are you have simply taken a wrong turn in life. Doing an act of kindness daily will help remind you that you are good – and that you deserve more than a life of addiction
  • Put changes into practice. Don’t just listen to advice, nod along, and then forget about it. Make changes in your life. The act of doing something to improve your circumstances will make you feel more confident in your own capacity for self-improvement

Forms of therapy that target low self-esteem and addiction

There are two main types of therapy that are good for both low self-esteem and addiction: cognitive behavioural therapy and motivational interviewing.

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a popular form of therapy that involves analysing your thought patterns to work out what causes you to use substances.

Low self-esteem is often tied up with these thought patterns. For instance, you might think ‘I am worthless’, or ‘I don’t deserve to be happy.’

These sorts of negative thoughts are exactly the kind of thoughts that lead to substance use. CBT can help you to identify these thoughts and prevent them from leading to substance use.

It is useful both for improving self-esteem and for bringing substance use under control.

Another useful form of therapy for self-esteem and addiction is motivational interviewing. Motivational interviewing involves a series of short ‘interviews’, in which the therapist helps the person going through therapy to talk about their main ‘motivations’, or things they value.

For instance, many value ‘family’ as one of their key motivations. Using these motivations, the therapist can then help to reaffirm the person going through therapy in what they want from life.

If what they want is to be happy, then that typically involves getting sober. Motivational Interviewing is often a precursor to more treatment, such as a trip to rehab.

MI can help with self-esteem because it strengthens a person’s confidence in what they value in life. This is something that people with low self-esteem often struggle with.

Final thoughts

Low self-esteem and addiction are intimately connected. Low self-esteem is often one of the factors which leads to addiction, and improving self-esteem is one of the things that people in recovery need to focus on if they want to stay sober for any length of time.

If you suffer from low self-esteem and/or addiction, we hope you have learnt something useful from this article, and we wish you the best with your recovery.




Boris is our editor-in-chief at Rehab 4 Addiction. Boris is an addiction expert with more than 20 years in the field.  His expertise covers a broad of topics relating to addiction, rehab and recovery. Boris is an addiction therapist and assists in the alcohol detox and rehab process. Boris has been featured on a variety of websites, including the BBC, Verywell Mind and Healthline.