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The Connection Between Addiction and Self-Esteem: Understanding the Risks

Self Esteem

Substance use disorder (SUD), also known as addiction, is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a complex, chronic brain disorder. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) explains addiction as a neurological “condition in which there is uncontrolled use of substance despite harmful consequence.” The connection between addiction and self-esteem is intricate and multifaceted, with low self-esteem being both a risk factor for developing addiction and a consequence of prolonged substance abuse.

Self-esteem, as explained by expert Morris Rosenberg, is a positive or negative orientation toward oneself and refers to an overall evaluation of one’s worth or value. The APA defines self-esteem as “the degree to which the qualities and characteristics contained in one’s self-concept (one’s description and evaluation of oneself, including psychological and physical characteristics, qualities, skills, roles and so forth) are perceived to be positive… the more positive the cumulative perception of these qualities and characteristics, the higher one’s self-esteem.” The relationship between addiction and self-esteem is complex and bidirectional, and the interplay between the two can lead to various risks and challenges, some of which include the following, provided by Verywell Mind:

  • Vulnerability: Individuals with low self-esteem are more vulnerable to external influences, such as peer pressure, which can lead to substance experimentation and addiction.
  • Escapism: Low self-esteem can lead to a lack of confidence in one’s ability to overcome challenges. Individuals may turn to drugs or alcohol to escape negative feelings and self-doubt, initiating a cycle of substance abuse.
  • Impaired decision-making: Poor self-esteem can impair decision-making abilities, leading to risky behaviors, including substance use, without considering the long-term consequences.
  • Self-sabotage: Low self-esteem often leads to self-sabotaging behaviors, including substance abuse. Individuals may engage in activities that reinforce their negative self-image, perpetuating the cycle of addiction. On the other hand, addiction-related behaviors (e.g., lying, stealing, neglecting responsibilities, etc.) can reinforce negative self-beliefs, further damaging self-esteem.
  • Negative mental health impact: Low self-esteem is often associated with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, which can increase one’s vulnerability to addiction.

Self-esteem is a critical factor in personal well-being because an individual’s self-esteem is inextricably linked to his or her psychological health, social adjustment, and quality of life. Understanding the connection between addiction and self-esteem is critical for developing effective prevention and intervention strategies. Comprehensive interventions that focus on improving self-worth, building coping skills, and providing social support can significantly mitigate the risks associated with low self-esteem and addiction.

For Information and Support 

Substance abuse and addiction can be incredibly dangerous and can result in severe short and long-term consequences. If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse or addiction, please get help as soon as possible. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to leading happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives. There is no reason to go through this alone, and we are here to help. Please feel free to reach out to us for further information or with any questions regarding substance abuse or addiction. We are available anytime via telephone at: 213-389-9964, or you can always email us at:

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