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Self-Esteem and Addiction: The Cycle of Low Self-esteem & How to Break it

Dr. Joe Rubino, creator of, speculates that low self-esteem is the most commonly found causative factor affecting drug addicts and alcoholics (Rubino, 2011).  Low self-esteem often leads to the initial usage of drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism (Bennett MA, 2009).  Another counselor and author, Carol Bennett, describes the life of someone with low self-esteem to be “drudgery,” putting the person at-risk for excessive use of drugs and alcohol in an attempt to find a place where “no special ability” or accountability for that matter is necessary (Bennett MA, 2009).  While the individual may initially seek out drugs as an attempt to alleviate the pain of low-self esteem, as it debilitates the individual so that he or she can no longer take a productive part in their own life. Intra/Inter-personal connections, professionally, and/or in terms of basic accountability; the individual’s self-esteem becomes even worse (Rubino, 2011).  This process creates the viscous cycle of low self-esteem more often than not in addicts.

There are several types of low self-esteem that can trigger addiction and alcoholism: a general sense of powerlessness over oneself and others, a sense of other people not caring about or loving them, low self-worth, and general incompetency (Rubino, 2011).  This factor rang true for me in the last stages of my disease, as well as throughout most of my existence.  When I entered treatment, my therapists and friends quickly caught onto my self-deprecating nature.  I know that I am not the only one with self-esteem issues.  Most of the individuals I came across in treatment suffered from self-image problems.  Feeling good about one’s self is such an essential part to staying sober and emotional recovery. I have been privy to so many different suggestions as to how one can improve self-confidence – my least favorite, recognizing that you are engaging in negative self-talk (i.e. thinking “I’m so dumb” or “nobody could ever love me”), “Just stop.”  Don’t get me wrong, long before my therapist expressed how to redirect my negative thought process I consciously tried to block out those destructive ideas,  however when you have “beating” yourself up for years it is difficult to retrain your thought process.

Below are my preferred methods of increasing self-esteem; I found them most helpful when I enter that place of self-imposed degradation:


One particular therapist at my treatment facility expressed that when he was getting sober, he learned to be his own best friend.  He learned how to be a loving “father” to his inner child.  Over-time he learned how to love himself.  It sounds cheesy, but he actually had us write love letters to ourselves -he sent them to us a month after we left the treatment center.  At first it seemed silly, but when the letter came, I felt proud of myself for the first time in years.

At the next treatment center I entered, I developed a friendship with one of the shuttle drivers.  In addition to opening up my heart and mind to recovery, he taught me of the importance of estimable acts.  It is about taking the “right” action, being compassionate to others, and being accountable in all my affairs (i.e. making the bed, admitting that we were dishonest, or keeping good hygiene).  Over time I realized that all these estimable acts were affecting how I felt about myself.  (I do have to admit I was annoyed, I was only doing it so that I could tell him how wrong he was when it didn’t work).  Recovery is all about undertaking estimable acts; these actions help break the cycle of low-self esteem.  When we are in our disease, we forget how to be responsible and how to relate to others.  Slowly, through estimable acts we begin to love ourselves again or for the first time.

At yet another treatment center (they were all transfers), one of my therapists suggested that we repeat positive affirmations while looking in the mirror.  This is particularly important for individuals struggling with body image issues: just looking the mirror is a challenge, but slowly over a period of time the image you have of yourself changes, even morphs – intimacy with self can be rediscovered or created.

It is critical for balance in recovery; taking the proper action through estimable acts is only one side of the triangle that represents healthy sobriety. However in conjunction with other aspects such as the 12 steps, I have found a system that lends itself to building my self-esteem.


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Filed under: Addiction, Featured, Life, Recovery · Tags: 12-steps, Addiction, alcoholism, compassion, drug addicts, Estimable acts, Recovery, Self-esteem, self-image, sobriety, therapy, treatment centers is operated by Recovery Brands LLC, a subsidiary of American Addiction Centers, Inc.
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