Going to rehab should be a life-changing experience. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it enables us to immediately recover from the effects of substance abuse. One of those effects is loss of self-esteem and sense of self. That effect is often made worse by social stigma and shame, because people are often made to feel as though addiction is a choice and something they got themselves into.
While modern medicine shows that addiction is a disorder, caused by a range of factors including genetics, epigenetics, and vulnerabilities like stress and trauma, having that knowledge doesn’t immediately make you feel like a good person. Instead, recovering your sense of self-esteem and self-worth will take time, ongoing investment, and ongoing mental help.
Why Does Substance Abuse Affect Self Esteem?
Most people leave rehab having had some help with mental health and their self-esteem. But, why do so many people experience issues with self-esteem following substance abuse? The first and most obvious reason is social stigma. If you’re brought up to see addiction as a negative thing, with phrases like “Don’t end up like X person”, you’re going to see addiction as shameful. Most of us see success as having a job, a family, and good health – and addiction can get in the way of all of that.
In addition, addiction changes how your brain produces neurotransmitters and hormones, literally changing how you process data and emotions. It changes your sense of self, so that the brain focuses on the substance you’re addicted to. That only adds to the social stigma and shame – because your brain literally shifts to focus on getting more of that substance.
Many people with substance use disorders feel deep shame about being unable to quit. “If only I were stronger” might be something you’ve thought to yourself a lot. And, that also combines with “nature vs nurture” ideas, where myths tell that “Once an addict, always an addict”. That isn’t true, but it can still make you feel worthless and like you are not or will never be a good person.
Dealing with all of that is a lot. It’s important that you get help and that you do go to rehab. You can also try the following steps to boost your self-esteem.
Get Professional Help
Nothing will replace getting professional insight and help from counselors and therapists. A therapist can help you to identify behavior patterns, negative thought spirals, and to separate things you believe from anxieties and doubts.
They can help you to build behavior and thought patterns that reinforce your sense of self, that remind you that you’re on the right track, and that help you build the patterns that show you are worthy of that support, that you can change, and that you are continuously working to do the right thing for yourself and your family or life.
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Talk To Your Peers
Professional help can be a great way to learn tools and to get guidance. However, it’s also important to talk to your peers, to invest in those peers, and to share with them. Often, that will mean participating in self-help and support groups like AA or another 12-Step Group, SMART, RING, or another alternative.
Getting to talk to your peers means you’ll be able to share with people who understand where you’re coming from. You’ll get to see similar experiences, similar bad decisions, and how life turns out with different decisions and influences. And, you’ll be able to see people who made the same mistakes and struggled with the same problems that you did being good, valuable, and worthy people.
Invest In Yourself
It’s important to set goals for yourself and then to continuously invest in yourself and your life on an ongoing basis. That might mean setting education or career goals for yourself. It might be ensuring that you build good habits and invest in how you feel. It might also be investing in your home and your family. Investing in yourself can take many forms but it always translates into deciding what is good for you, what will help you to regularly feel good and to feel good about yourself, and then to do that consistently. That might be:
- Eat healthy about 80% of the time
- Exercise at least 4 hours a week
- Spend time with friends and family at least twice a week
- Spend time meditating every day before bed
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
- Set career goals and take steps to move yourself to where you want to be in your career
- Learn new skills that help you to be where you want to be
- Invest in stress management
Here, it might be tempting to try everything at once. Unfortunately, that will be overwhelming. Usually, it’s a better idea to build a few good habits at a time and then add on a new one when those habits are getting easy to maintain.
For example, if you start out by spending 15 minutes a day cleaning up your home and then meditating before you go to bed at the same time – you’d want to wait until that habit gets easy – usually anywhere between 1 and 6 months later – before you add any new ones in. Either way, building good habits and sticking to them will help you to feel better about yourself and it will help you to build a better sense of self-esteem.
Volunteering to help others can give you a significant boost to your sense of accomplishment, self-worth, and self-esteem. Here, the easiest place to volunteer is helping others recover from addiction. However, if you’re in early recovery, it’s important that you wait. Being exposed to people who are still addicted could trigger you to relapse. Starting out volunteering at animal shelters, building homes, or even soup kitchens can be much better for you.
Once you’re out of early recovery, usually 6-12 months, you can start helping other people get to where you are now. That might mean volunteering at shelters, it might mean volunteering at rehab clinics, and it might mean actively getting training as a counselor to help people make better decisions for themselves and for their lives. It could also be as simple as agreeing to sponsor someone at your 12-Step group like AA or NA. There are plenty of ways to help other people recover from addiction.
Recovering from a drug or alcohol use disorder is a long process. You won’t get there overnight. You also wont’ suddenly wake up one day to realize you feel better about yourself. Depending on your past, your behavior, and your relationships, being able to feel good about yourself might mean making amends with people, investing significant effort into continuing growth, and to helping others. Wherever you’re at in your recovery, that will remain true.
If you or a loved one would like more information about drug rehab, alcohol rehab, dual diagnosis rehab, or detox please contact us to speak in complete confidence with one of our experienced treatment advisors today.