Addiction counselors and therapists have long recognized the connection between self-esteem and substance abuse. Individuals with lower levels of self-esteem are more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol to bury self-esteem problems or to give them a temporary boost from the low self-opinions that they have developed. Low self-esteem is a particularly insidious problem for teen and adolescent drug addicts and alcoholics, whose struggles with their own identities and their respective places in society can overwhelm even the strongest of personalities. Teens who are in a drug recovery program can assure the success of that program if they can develop a strong and healthy sense of themselves as they move toward long-term sobriety.
A teen or adolescent who has developed a low sense of self-esteem will see himself as being unliked and without friends, having little worth or value, and being the object of ridicule and bullying from peers and classmates who have a greater sense of self-assurance. These feelings form an identity of worthlessness, which leads a teen to seek solace in drugs or alcohol. A teen or adolescent who goes through a substance abuse recovery program without addressing these feelings will be prone to relapses and deeper problems with drugs and alcohol. That teen will also be more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and other psychological disorders.
“Drug Treatment Program”
Alternately, a teen who goes into a drug treatment program with an already weak self-identity might adopt the label of being an alcoholic or addict as the strongest marker of his identity. He might look back on his experiences while he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol and decide, either consciously or subconsciously, that he preferred the personality that he exhibited during those times. A person naturally forms the foundation of his identity during his teen years. Adopting the “addict” moniker during these years can lead to lifelong drug and alcohol problems. Counselors and therapists as well as family members and friends need to take great care not to reinforce the “addict” label when dealing with teens and adolescents because of the risk of imprinting that label as the person’s primary self-identity marker.
A teen who is struggling to overcome drug addiction or alcoholism can develop a positive self-identity by making sure that all of his or her issues, and not just substance abuse, are addressed and treated during recovery. Positive affirmations from family and friends and a supportive environment are also crucial to allow a teen to develop a healthy platform to build and sustain his self-worth. This may require relocating a teen to a new school or neighborhood, and helping him to develop new hobbies and activities that better suit his natural talents. Family members may need to learn new ways to communicate in order to replace old and possibly hurtful interactions that had tendencies to reduce a teen’s self esteem.
From a more positive perspective, a teen’s family can be the best resource he has to build or rebuild a positive self-identity. His family will know his talents and skills better than friends or counselors and they can channel that knowledge into activities that help a teen realize his own self-worth. All parents will understand that raising and nurturing a teen is a challenge even without having to help the teen with his self-identity or to keep him on track in an addiction recovery program. Families might find that the added challenge of helping a teen to gain his own positive self-identity will make all of the other challenges they face that much easier and more manageable.
Sustain Recovery Services in southern California works with adolescents and young adults who are striving to develop a strong and positive self-identity while working to overcome drug addiction and alcoholism. Please see our website or call us at 949-407-9052 for more information about our individual and family services or to arrange a confidential consultation with one of our counselors.