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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

April 1, 2024

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Self-esteem is the way you perceive yourself, and having appropriate levels of self-esteem can help you build confidence in recovery, during or following a stay in a California rehab.

The Importance of Self-Esteem in Recovery

Research shows there is a high correlation between low self-esteem and substance abuse. 

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Addiction is widely recognized as a chronic and relapsing mental health disease. Self-esteem and mental health are inextricably intertwined. While there are treatment programs and sober living homes to help you along the way, long-term recovery is something that is deeply personal.

So, if you’re looking to commit to long-term recovery, it pays to improve your self-esteem and confidence in recovery and work on establishing healthy and positive thought patterns to minimize your chances of relapse. 

What is self-esteem, then? 

Well, your self-esteem is your sense of self-worth. Think of this as the way you talk to yourself, consciously, unconsciously, and subconsciously. 

According to world-famous psychologist Abraham Maslow, there are two types of self-esteem or self-respect: 

  1. The need for internal self-worth and self-appreciation.
  2. The need for external respect and approval from others.

Esteem needs are one of the five pillars of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

If you have high self-esteem, you feel comfortable in your skin and confident in yourself. You can readily socialize with others, and you can assertively stand up for yourself when required. 

Typical signs of high self-esteem include: 

  • Sunny, positive disposition
  • Honesty toward self
  • Willingness to admit mistakes
  • Freely able to express yourself
  • Copes well with frustrations
  • Rational outlook
  • Independent streak
  • Seeks challenges
  • Flexible in the face of adversity

If you’re suffering from low self-esteem, on the other hand, you’re more likely to feel down, and you’re also liable to believe other people are better than you, and that nobody really cares about you. 

Typical manifestations of low self-esteem include: 

  • Problems making decisions
  • Weak problem-solving skills
  • Constantly putting yourself down
  • Seeking approval from others
  • Continuously apologizing
  • Overreacting to situations
  • Blaming others

There is a body of evidence showing a link between addiction and low self-esteem. 

One study found prison inmates with a history of drug addiction had lower levels of self-esteem than those without any history of substance abuse. 

Another study found a strong correlation between self-esteem and substance abuse in Greek college students. Students who regularly exercised tended to abstain from using substances, while those who used substances typically did so as a result of peer pressure, whether direct or indirect. 

If you use substances just because your friends are using them, this can indicate a negative core belief of not being good enough. 

A further study shows a link between stress, self-esteem, and substance use disorder.

Why Is Self-Esteem Important in Recovery? 

Strengthening your self-esteem is vital during recovery from addiction, as high self-esteem is associated with an improved ability to tolerate stressful situations, and to do so without using substances. 

If you want to remain abstinent long-term, you’ll need to learn how to rapidly and effectively de-escalate any negative thought processes that could end in relapse if unchecked and unchallenged. 

Relapse, just like recovery, is a process rather than a single event. Relapse can be initiated by emotional triggers. If you have high levels of self-esteem, you’ll be better positioned to calm yourself without using substances, and without relapsing.

Building Self-Worth in Recovery

It takes some time and effort to build your self-esteem, but it’s well worth the effort. 

You first need to identify and understand any negative core beliefs, and then you need to challenge these beliefs. 

By working with a qualified therapist, you’ll better understand what causes you to react the way you do to certain people, places, and things. 

Here are some of the best ways to boost your self-esteem during recovery: 

  • Talk therapies
  • Mindfulness techniques
  • Eat healthily
  • Exercise daily
  • Be compassionate to yourself

Talk therapies

Evidence-based talk therapies like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) help you to explore the automatic negative thoughts that arise when you encounter certain triggering people, places, or things. 

Record any stressful situations you encounter, and write down what you think and feel in the face of these stressors. Over time, you’ll be able to spot patterns emerging. 

You’ll learn to identify these negative core beliefs or automatic thoughts, and you’ll start replacing them with positive thoughts. Over time, you can develop positive healthy habits, while improving your self-esteem and your overall recovery.

Mindfulness techniques

Harnessing simple mindfulness techniques can help you to stay focused and present, while also paying attention to your inner self. 

Consider the following: 

  • Journaling
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Singing
  • Hiking

Eat healthily

When you’re recovering from addiction, eat as many fresh, whole foods and as few processed foods as possible. Aim for lots of fruits and veggies, and a diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and protein. Shoot for a moderate carb content and minimal unhealthy fats and sugars. Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water throughout the day. 

Not only will eating healthily help strengthen a body weakened by addiction, but you could also improve your mood and self-esteem.

Exercise daily

Just 20 minutes of high-intensity exercise can release dopamine and endorphins, naturally occurring chemicals linked to mood. 

Exercise can improve your self-image along with your mood. As you lose weight and tone up, your muscle and skin condition will improve, you’ll look better, and you’ll feel better.

Be compassionate to yourself

Be kind to yourself, striving to do the best you can rather than striving for unattainable perfection. 

Pay attention to the way you speak to yourself, and be kind to yourself.

Alcohol and Self-Esteem

Alcohol is a CNS (central nervous system) depressant. As such, it can adversely affect your mental and emotional state. 

While consuming alcohol can temporarily raise or lower your self-esteem – this depends on the person and the situation – long-term alcohol abuse usually leads to lowered self-esteem. 

Low self-esteem can also be a contributory factor to alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence.

Get Treatment for Alcohol Addiction at Renaissance Recovery

If you’re ready to commit to recovery, you’ll find all the support you need here at Renaissance Recovery. 

We’ll help you select the right outpatient treatment program for your needs, and we’ll also take account of any co-occurring mental health disorders. 

Take advantage of evidence-based MAT (medication-assisted treatment) alongside psychotherapy, counseling, and holistic therapies for a whole-body approach to addiction recovery. 

Start rebuilding your life, your confidence in recovery, and your self-esteem, and start by calling Renaissance Recovery at 866.330.9449



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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