Self-esteem is the subjective way we perceive our self-worth, sense of belonging, and competency. Our self-esteem connects to everything in our lives, like our relationships, motivation, and ability to stand up for ourselves and articulate our needs. Although low self-esteem is not considered a mental illness on its own, it connects to a lot of mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, and substance use disorder

Low self-esteem and addiction are intertwined. Low self-esteem can be a result of substance abuse, and substance abuse can lead to low self-esteem. Dealing with both low self-esteem and substance abuse on your own can seem impossible, but with help, it can be done. Keep reading to learn more about how Coastal Detox can help you rediscover your self-love. 

First of All, What is Addiction? 

Substance use disorder (SUD) is a disease where people can have an impulsive and uncontrollable need to use a substance. Substances can be alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs. These impulses to use substances have to interfere with everyday life and affect work, relationships, or school. When substance use becomes severe, it can be considered an addiction. 

Although environmental factors like trauma, stress, and peer pressure can cause addiction, the biggest risk of developing an addiction or substance use disorder is genetics. Addiction is a progressive condition that affects the reward center of the brain. The reward center regulates what actions we need to do to survive, like eating food. For people with substance use disorder, the reward center identifies alcohol or other drugs as a necessity to survive. 

According to the DSM-5, the criteria for substance use disorder is: 

First of All, What is Addiction
  • Using large amounts of the substance 
  • Doing the substance for longer than you intended to or are supposed to
  • Wanting to cut down or stop using the substance but not being able to stop Spending a lot of time getting the substance, using, and recovering from it
  • Substance use interferes with daily life, relationships, and school/work
  • Substance use gets in the way of doing activities you enjoy or obligations 
  • The continued use of the substance even when you feel psychological and physical distress 
  • Feeling withdrawal symptoms when not on the substance
  • Intense cravings to use the substance 
  • The build-up of tolerance 

Addiction is physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting. Struggling with addiction can hurt a person’s self-esteem and make healing seem out of reach. Common misconceptions of people struggling with substance abuse are that they have no willpower and are lazy. In reality, overcoming substance use disorder takes so much more than willpower and a desire to quit. 

Signs and Symptoms of Low Self-Esteem 

Unfortunately, it is somewhat common for people to talk down on themselves from time to time. But if self-criticism is the norm, you may have low self-esteem. Things like bullying, stress, mental illness, break-ups, financial problems, and rejection can cause low self-esteem. Identifying low-self esteem is the first step to building it back up again. Here are a few signs to look out for: 

  • You compare yourself to other people. If something good happening to someone else makes your confidence plummet, you most likely are dealing with a lack of self-confidence. When you constantly pay attention to the lives of those who seem to be more successful than you, that pulls you away from focusing on your own path. 
  • You take criticism extremely personally. If a small comment on how to improve from a friend or a co-worker can send you spiraling, it could be a sign that your self-worth is tied to external validation. 
  • You talk negatively to yourself. If your inner dialogue is consistently harsh, you probably have low self-esteem. Learn to identify your negative self-talk by practicing mindfulness and correcting yourself in real-time. 
  • You give up on dreams easily. Not having confidence in your skills, ideas, and ability to follow through can be a good indicator that your self-esteem is low. 
  • You are not confident in your decisions. Being indecisive can indicate a lack of assertion. If you constantly question your decision-making, you may not have a lot of trust in yourself. 

If you have just realized that you have low self-esteem, do not fret! There are lots of ways to build self-worth and confidence. Finding professional help can help you identify negative self-talk, prioritize your needs, and identify the root cause of your distress. Other things such as meditation, exercise, and positive affirmations can help you begin your journey to self-love

The Connection Between Low Self-Esteem and Addiction

Now that we know how to define both addiction and self-esteem, how are they connected? The simple answer is: if you do not love yourself, you will not treat yourself kindly. Low self-worth can be the catalyst to starting up drug use, just like high self-esteem can be the catalyst to recovery.

Problematic substance use can is as a way to cope with the pain of everyday life. Given all the negative symptoms of low self-esteem, there is no wonder people may feel the need to distract themselves from all of the negative thoughts and anxiety that come along with it. 

Low self-esteem is a symptom of many conditions separate from substance abuse. Some examples of mental illnesses that can cause low self-esteem are: 


Interestingly enough, the mental illnesses listed above also connect to an increased risk of substance use disorder. About half of the individuals diagnosed with any mental illness with also be diagnosed with substance use disorder and vice-versa. People with undiagnosed mental illness may try to use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate and ease symptoms. Drug use can also exasperate symptoms of mental illness. 

Comorbidity is the presence of two or more mental illnesses at once which is typical for those diagnosed with substance use disorder. Studies have found that comorbidity is linked to low-self esteem and lower quality of life. 

Self-Esteem and Substance Abuse: How Can I Improve My Self-Confidence During Recovery? 

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how to improve self-esteem during the process of recovery. Other than finding the right treatment plan for you, the next major step is to identify negative thought patterns. Once you can learn how to curb negative self-talk, you can begin to build a positive self-image. You can achieve this by thinking positively, forgiving yourself for your past actions, and saying positive affirmations. 

You can achieve positive thinking patterns through finding a supportive community, seeking professional help, and keeping a gratitude journal. Positive thinking is a skill that needs to people need to develop over time. The ability to switch perspectives and see things from a positive light is something you need to attempt every time you identify a negative thought. 

Without self-forgiveness or self-compassion, you can not move forward. People who have struggled with addiction have difficulty accepting the past and moving past self-blame. Punishing yourself will only lead to more self-criticism and a higher chance of relapse. Your past does not define you. Studies show that when people forgive themselves for past actions, they experience less depression and anxiety.

Activities That Can Help Boost Your Self Esteem 

Low Self-Esteem

Try to learn something new every day. Learning new things or picking up new hobbies are good ways of getting out of your comfort zone. Often, people with low self-esteem shy away from new experiences out of fear of not being good at them right at the start. 

Not being good at something can reinforce the idea that people with low-self esteem are “incompetent.” Encouraging yourself to try new things helps build a tolerance to constructive criticism and helps ease self-consciousness over time. 

Set daily goals that are realistic and attainable. It can be tempting to set big goals for yourself right off the bat, but if you struggle with low self-esteem, setting big goals and not achieving them all at once can lead to more self-criticism. Breaking down big goals into smaller goals you can reach over time will help build confidence and productivity. 

Move your body. Physical activity improves self-worth and self-image. Taking time out of your day to do something healthy for both mind and body is a form of self-care. Not only will your mental health improve, but your body will become fitter, and you will feel healthier and stronger. 

Diving into self-help strategies like the ones listed above is a great way to start building up self-esteem. Addiction can leave people feeling like they can not trust themselves. Engaging in activities that help build self-trust is an excellent first step towards building a healthy relationship with yourself. 

Combatting the Connection Between Low Self-Esteem and Addiction at Coastal Detox

You can improve low self-esteem through drug abuse treatment because seeking addiction treatment is an act of self-love. At Coastal Detox, we offer a holistic treatment plan that focuses on recovering your physical, mental, and spiritual self. Through mind-body interventions and energy therapies, we get patients to a place of self-acceptance, confidence, and balance. 

There is a clear link between low-self esteem and substance abuse, so it is crucial to increase self-esteem to decrease substance use. Contact us today to see how Coastal Detox can help you get back to yourself.