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Addiction and Low Self Esteem:
Guest Article by Helen Springer

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Addiction and Low Self Esteem: Breaking the Ultimate Vicious Cycle

Article by Helen Stringer

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Experiencing low self esteem has been proven to directly impact on the way we live our lives. Those who don't value themselves often find that their relationships suffer, their confidence is low and they are unable to live happily because they deem themselves unworthy of joy or success. This has got to be a pretty miserable way to live but with studies indicating that a whopping 85% of the population lack high self esteem it seems that it is something that may affect more people than we think. Worryingly low self esteem has also been linked to addiction with one study claiming that  low self esteem in youth can be one of the leading causes of substance abuse in later life. If you are someone who is battling addiction then here are some things you should know about self esteem.

What is self esteem?

UK mental health charity Mind define self esteem as 'the beliefs you have about yourself' in terms of your abilities, your personality, your future aspirations and the type of person you are in general. Those with low self esteem will have negative ideas about themselves and focus on their weaknesses rather than their strengths. Over time this will effect their lives. They may end up in abusive relationships because its all that they feel they deserve. They might not choose to pursue their ambitions because they expect failure. A lack of self worth can also lead to them devaluing their body and consequently living unhealthy lifestyles that can even result in premature death.

What causes low self esteem?

There are many factors that can lead to low self esteem but most experts believe that a lot of our self worth is established during childhood. Children lack the insight to understand the world and may blame themselves if they suffer from bullying, abuse or have uninvolved, ambivalent caregivers who fail to make them feel loved and valued. Failing to conform to cultural or religious expectations can also lead to personal guilt/self loathing and experiencing prejudice regarding these things can have a similar effect. In the modern world many people also believe that the unrealistic representations we see in the media can also lead people to feel inadequate in their own skin.

How is it linked to addiction?

Low self esteem is thought to be primary characteristic of an addictive personality. For those who constantly feel unworthy, substances such as drugs and alcohol can temporarily take away their anxieties and improve their self confidence. Over time they become dependent on these substances to help them cope with everyday life. But addiction is not a pleasant thing. The compulsive desire to get their next fix at any cost can lead addicts into desperate behaviour – sometimes even criminal activity. Other aspects of their life will suffer and when the effects of their hit wear off they will feel lower than ever. Cue the next binge. This is how the vicious cycle is created.

How can I improve my self esteem in recovery?

For addicts in recovery, working on your self esteem is one of the most important things you can do.It can be a painful time but with studies indicating that low self esteem is one of the most common reasons we relapse, improving self esteem is essential on your road to recovery. Learning to value your mind and body is the first step in the healing process. Adapt a healthy lifestyle that includes good diet and regular exercise. Mindfulness meditation is also considered a good tool for analysing our inner thoughts and finding peace within ourselves. Finding ways to help others can also increase your self esteem as you begin to see the positive effect you can have on the lives of others. This could involve joining a support group or volunteering. Re-engaging with those that love you can be another way to build bridges, atone for any past mistakes and learn the value of love and friendship once again. And finally, therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a good way to go through any troubling emotions with a professional and find ways to challenge any destructive thought processes that affect the way you feel about yourself.  

Related: Mindfulness Exercise

Mental Health Disclaimer: None of the information posted in the Wellness Library, whether by me or guest writers, is represented as any type of replacement for any needed mental health or medical evaluation, testing or treatment a person may need.