A Better Today

Self-Esteem
in Addiction Recovery

Improving Self-Esteem & Communication While Treating Drug & Alcohol Addictions

Many people who are in recovery from addiction have low self-esteem. It is also common for these individuals to have underdeveloped, unhealthy or immature communication skills. There are many reasons for the appearance of these challenges in this population, and often in tandem.

The way people communicate is closely tied to their feelings about themselves and sense of self-worth. As self-esteem issues are common among individuals with histories of addiction, poor communication skills often appear as well. When someone has very low self-esteem, he or she is more likely to struggle with effective communication.

For example, someone who feels unworthy of compassion and love wouldn’t speak up if others were overlooking his or her needs or wishes. People with low self-esteem may use passive communication styles, hiding their feelings from others and accepting others’ opinions, wants and needs instead of pursuing their own.

Some individual’s who have low self-esteem may feel insecure and overcompensate as a defense mechanism. These people might use an aggressive communication style, pushing others to accept their own ideas and rejecting the feelings and ideas of others. They might also use a passive-aggressive style of communication to boost their ego—avoiding conflict while accentuating the failures of others.

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Many people self-medicate with drugs & alcohol to handle social anxiety, peer pressure and low self esteem.

Addressing Low Self-Esteem in Substance Abuse Treatment

Therapists in rehabs everywhere work to improve the self-esteem and self-image of their clients. Most people in recovery carry a lot of shame about their addiction. Some people feel weak or stupid for not having been able to quit on their own or for letting their substance abuse get as out of hand as it did.

Others are ashamed of things they did during active addiction, hurting friends and family, mistreating themselves, allowing their health to decline, committing crimes against perfect strangers. These are very difficult things to come to terms with and to accept.

A big part of the problem is how conflicted most people feel about continuing to use substances and making these poor choices. Addiction rewires the brain to prioritize using substances over other things that an individual truly values— things like work, morality, independence, family and friends.

They don’t want to do things that go against their values, but their brains are telling them to go ahead and overlook those values. Many clients in rehab describe feelings of self-hatred, shame, guilt and worthlessness.

This is a tragic part of the disease of addiction and a key element that must be addressed in treatment for the mind, body and soul to be healed.

Struggling with the Mental Dependency of Addiction: Low Esteem Perpetuates Substance Abuse

Addiction is further perpetuated by low self-esteem, via the shame cycle. This is when people feel bad about themselves and then use substances to temporarily feel better. Unfortunately, using substances makes them feel even worse in the end, reflecting on their lack of will to abstain and so on.

Many people in active addiction feel like they are hopeless, too deep in their substance abuse to get clean and sober. They may even tell themselves that they don’t deserve a better life, because of the guilt they feel for their actions. These thoughts are like poison, polluting the mind and spirit with negativity and self-loathing.

When people feel like there is no point to living a better life or trying to, this becomes an excuse or a reason to keep using. A dangerous logic arises: since there is no point to living and I’m worthless and I hate my life, I might as well just keep getting high until I die. Many people who fall into this terrible cycle develop depression and suicidal ideology.

It is crucial to remember that this is an aspect of the disease. Addiction is a serious physical and psychological condition that people need professional help to overcome.

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How Do Unhealthy Relationships Influence Drug & Alcohol Addictions?

Self-esteem issues and poor communication often play into unhealthy relationship dynamics as well. When someone’s core relationships don’t exercise healthy communication and boundaries, the ego and integrity of the individual may be further deflated.

A person with low self-esteem may be made to feel even worse about his or her self from interactions with someone who is overbearing and pushy. His or her perceived lack of control and agency in life may be propelled by a dynamic like this.

Many people who go through addiction treatment have unhealthy relationship dynamics in their lives. These are often family relationships and romantic relationships—many cases of codependency and enabling. The truth is that many people in general have unhealthy relationships in their lives, not just people who have addictions.

When your life revolves around Alcohol or drug use, though, many of your relationships may also revolve around substances. Many friends may also be abusing substances, limiting the trust that could be placed in them. Family members and other loved ones are easily taken advantage of for the sake of substance abuse.

When you are desperate to continue using alcohol or drugs, relationships take a back seat and are often abused or neglected.

Improving Communication and Self-Esteem in Substance Abuse Treatment

In rehab and other treatment for addiction, professionals work toward building self-esteem and positive communication skills.

In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), therapists help patients recognize unhealthy patterns in thought and behavior that may be perpetuating negative self-image or ineffective communication styles. Then, therapists work to replace those patterns with more functional ones.

Therapists may also help identify unhealthy relationship dynamics that fuel low self-esteem and poor communication. From there, coaching on setting healthy boundaries in relationship and family therapy can go a long way to correct those dynamics.

Activities that invite success and allow clients to see their progress and capability can help to reconstruct self image. Strengthening, for example, offers clients the opportunity to improve their physical condition and observe progress. Yoga also offers this, but with additional focus on achieving peace and relaxation, as well as empathy for oneself and the body.

Expressive therapy sessions also can improve self-esteem, as clients learn and develop new crafts—discovering talents and interests. Group therapy builds self-confidence as well, as individuals take the reigns in helping each other process and work through difficult emotions and experiences.

Through a holistic approach to healing, rehab and other addiction treatment services can move to improve clients’ self-esteem and communication skills.

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