How to Build Self-Esteem During Recovery From an Addiction

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The relationship between low self-esteem and addiction has been established for decades. In the 1970s, drug users, particularly women, were found to have low self-esteem, and more recently, the connection has been demonstrated between low self-esteem and behavioral addictions, including internet addiction, eating problems, and compulsive buying.

Initially, alcohol or drugs or a compulsive behavior can mask insecurities and even make people feel more confident. These feelings are short-lived, however, and the addiction can sink their self-esteem even lower.

Steps to Rebuilding Self-Esteem in Spite of an Addiction

Whether you're contemplating doing something about your addiction, or you're already on the road to recovery, you'll benefit from taking these simple steps to build your self-esteem.

Write Your Own Affirmation 

An affirmation is a simple, positive statement you say to yourself. While affirmations may not seem genuine at first, over time, reciting them does change the way you feel about yourself. Write an affirmation that reflects how you want to feel about yourself; for example, "I am proud of myself."

Over time, these affirmations can help transform negative self-talk into a more optimistic view of the self.

Give yourself a month saying it out loud to yourself every day.

Forgive Yourself for Past Mistakes

People who have struggled with an addiction are often plagued by self-blame, which worsens low self-esteem. Addiction can really affect your judgment and impulse control, so you say and do things you later regret.

Beating yourself up about what you did in the past will only increase the likelihood of relapse, so now is the time to recognize and acknowledge what you did, let go of punishing yourself, and commit to doing things differently in the future. In other words, never let past wrongs define your present.


Taking responsibility for your behaviors, allowing yourself to feel remorse, and then looking for ways to do better in the future are some of the key steps in self-forgiveness.

Accept Compliments

People with low self-esteem often miss opportunities to build their self-esteem simply by acknowledging the kind words of others. Next time someone gives you a compliment, resist the urge to dismiss it or think to yourself that the person didn't mean it. Instead, imagine it's true, and you might just find that it is.

Do Something Kind Every Day

One way of increasing the appreciation that others express toward you is to do kind things for them. You don't have to make a grand gesture; something as simple as holding a door open for another person, giving up a seat on the bus or giving someone directions if they look lost can elicit a genuine "thank you."

Even if the other person does not express their gratitude, you can bask in the good feeling of having helped another person. You may also consider volunteering to help others in recovery.

Start Making Changes

Nothing helps you to build self-esteem like self-determination. Everyone has things they would like to change in their own lives, or in the lives of those around them, but for people with addictions, change happens in stages.

If a major change seems like too much, break it down into smaller acts, and choose to do one a day or one a week, whichever you feel you'll follow through on. With each small change, inwardly celebrate your success in moving toward your goal.

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  1. Andreassen CS, Pallesen S, Griffiths MD. The relationship between addictive use of social media, narcissism, and self-esteem: Findings from a large national survey. Addict Behav. 2017;64:287-293. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2016.03.006

  2. Leach D, Kranzler HR. An Interpersonal Model of Addiction Relapse. Addict Disord Their Treat. 2013;12(4):183-192. doi:10.1097/ADT.0b013e31826ac408

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