A commonly asked question about substance abuse is what is the cause? What makes it occur in someone’s life, and are some people more prone to developing a substance use disorder than others?
While there is no one cause of a substance use disorder – typically, a number of causes come into play – there are certain factors that predispose individuals to develop an unhealthy reliance on substances as a means of coping. For example, individuals with lower self-esteem are more at risk for developing a substance use disorder than those with higher self-esteem.
What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem is one’s sense of personal value. How we feel about ourselves is based in part on our daily experiences: acting, thinking about our actions and considering the way others perceive those actions.
People with high self-esteem know themselves accurately and recognize their own strengths and weaknesses. They trust their decisions and have confidence in themselves and their worth.
People with low self-esteem often believe they’re unlovable, incompetent or unworthy. They see too many flaws in themselves that, they believe, are too difficult to change. Characteristics of low self-esteem include:
- Believing you’re not important
- Expecting others to humiliate you
- Not trusting other people
- Feelings of loneliness and separation from others
- Being constantly influenced by negative thoughts and feelings
- Needing constant external positive experiences to overcome negative thoughts and feelings
Low self-esteem reduces your quality of life and can lead to, or be caused by, anxiety, depression, eating disorders and other mental illnesses. It can also lead to substance abuse.
What affects self-esteem?
Many things can affect self-esteem, including finances, pressure to look a certain way or have a certain job, familial factors and experiences of bullying and abuse, to name a few. The feeling of low self-esteem is a negative experience, and some people seek to overcome or rid themselves of those feelings through unhealthy coping mechanisms.
For example, the link between low self-esteem and substance abuse is the subject of a large body of research that shows people who have low self-esteem often use drugs or alcohol to feel better about themselves, if only temporarily.
But drugs and alcohol rarely improve your self-esteem. On the contrary, they more often lead to feelings of failure and loss of control, according to a study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors. They can lead you to do things that lower your self-esteem even further.
Additionally, low self-esteem can affect your overall mental health and lead to a substance use disorder as a result. For example, the American Addiction Centers stresses that depression and substance abuse often co-occur. Depression itself is a factor for substance abuse, and the link between low self-esteem and substance abuse may be due in part to feelings of depression. Seeking help for depression can dramatically improve your quality of life — and your self-esteem — and reduce your risk of a substance use disorder.
How to improve your self-esteem
Increasing your self-esteem can improve your quality of life and reduce any risk of developing a substance use disorder. The good news is there are numerous actions you can take to help boost your self-esteem on your own:
- Take good care of yourself – Treating yourself well can help you feel better about yourself. Eat healthy food, exercise and practice good hygiene. Get plenty of sleep and drink enough water to promote better energy and metabolism, healthy skin and an overall good mood
- Do things that are fun and engaging – Leisure and hobbies are seriously underrated, but they make a world of difference for your mental health; set aside time to rest, partake in fun activities (like a theme park, museum or unique dining experience) and watch the positive impact it has on your life;
- Use your talents and abilities – Put your talents and abilities to work to improve your self-esteem. Maybe you’re artistic, or musical or athletic. Maybe you enjoy writing, are talented at organizing or love spending time in the kitchen. Whatever your skills, use them
- Spend time with the right people – Toxic relationships can be really harmful to your self-esteem. Surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself, and don’t be afraid to spend less time with the people who cause you to think poorly of yourself
- Surround yourself with beauty – Do your best to make your home a special place that reflects who you are. Make it a place where you feel unique, comfortable and in control. And spend time in nature when you can – even going for a short trail walk can lift your spirits more than you expected
Improving your self-esteem takes time, but it can be done. By focusing on the little things in life that bring you joy and peace, you’ll have less energy to focus on the negative things. And slowly, you’ll see the difference this mindset makes in your life.
Break the link
The link between low self-esteem and substance abuse can be broken if you take steps to raise your self-esteem. Getting professional help for both low self-esteem and substance abuse can help you avoid addiction and dependence and improve your quality of life.
To begin the journey to healing today, contact Silvermist Recovery to learn more.