Why Self-Esteem Is Important In Recovery And How You Can Improve It

Last Updated: September 25, 2023

One thing that was clear during my active addiction was my lack of self-esteem. Outwardly, I presented myself like I had it all – beauty, brains, and the ability to have fun while drinking;  in reality, I was dying inside. I felt worthless, hopeless, and like I didn’t deserve love. It took me well into my sobriety to realize these qualities all had to do with my addiction.

The way we feel about ourselves is inherently tied to our addiction. When you enter recovery, you’ll find that you have a lot of soul-searching to do and you’ll begin to discover how your thoughts and behaviors contributed to your addiction.

In recovery, you will learn more about how the way that you perceive yourself can influence alcohol or drug use and why improving your self-esteem should be a priority on your path of getting sober.

What role does self-esteem play in recovery?

Merriam-Webster defines self-esteem as “a feeling of having respect for yourself and your abilities; a confidence and satisfaction in oneself.” Self-esteem is a subjective value that we give to ourselves. If you have high self-esteem you hold yourself at a high value; conversely, people with low self-esteem do not believe they are worth much. Self-esteem is important in anyone’s life, but especially for someone in recovery. People who have low self-esteem can often become depressed, fall short of their potential, and tolerate abusive relationships. On the other hand, people who have an overabundance of self-esteem may emit a sense of entitlement and inability to admit and learn from their mistakes.

Self-esteem comes from experiences with different people and activities. These include childhood experiences, our successes, failures, and how we have been treated by family, friends, peers, coaches, teachers or anyone else that we’ve come in contact with. The University of Texas at Austin lists experiences that can contribute to healthy self-esteem, including:

  • Being spoken to respectfully.
  • Getting appropriate attention.
  • Being listened to.
  • Having achievements recognized and mistakes acknowledged and accepted.

Experiences that may lead to low self-esteem include:

  • Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.
  • Harsh criticism.
  • Being ignored, teased, or ridiculed.
  • Being expected to be perfect or avoid failure.

Like many things in recovery, it’s important to find the right balance. How do self-esteem and recovery go hand-in-hand, you ask? Addiction robs us of our self-worth and it’s nearly impossible to have healthy self-esteem levels while we’re drinking and using. In some cases, it’s low self-esteem that plunges us into our addiction in the first place. Drugs and alcohol can make us feel more confident and self-assured. In other cases, substances like alcohol make us forget all about our self-esteem. Once we become addicted, the cycle begins and drinking or using can make our self-esteem plummet even further. Even though drugs give us a false sense of confidence, our self-esteem normally ends up falling to new depths.

Once we make the decision to get sober we have to address our issues with self-esteem. Low self-esteem in recovery can affect our ability to find happiness. Satisfaction in recovery might not be able to be reached and if that’s the case, it will be tempting to return to the numbness of an addiction. A life in recovery has a lot to offer, but only if you value yourself highly enough to commit to doing the work.

Tips for improving self-esteem in recovery

Remember, regaining your self-esteem will be a process. It’s not something that will happen to your sobriety overnight. Doing the work of recovery and dedicating time to healing will help you change how you feel about yourself and can help you develop a higher self-esteem.

Here are some tips on improving your self-esteem in recovery:

Become aware of your thoughts and beliefs

Recovery is all about getting in touch with who you are. You’ll need to spend time learning about yourself and practicing rituals like meditation. You should also beware of negative thoughts and allow yourself to challenge them.

Think positive

You’ll have to shift your thinking to know the facts: that despite mistakes, or failures, you’re still a unique and special person who deserves to be happy.


Our physical and mental health are tied closely together. It’s important to take care of your body by eating healthy and exercising, as well as devoting time to your mental health through rest and rejuvenation.

Be aware of troubling situations

We often hear in recovery that we’ll have to change people, places, and things in order to stay stable in sobriety. It’s important to be aware of places or situations that are triggering or make you feel inadequate and negatively affect your self-esteem.

Forgive and encourage yourself

One of the most crucial aspects of recovery is learning how to forgive. We are flawed humans who will never be perfect. We must learn to forgive ourselves and others so that peace and serenity are possible. Positive changes can be made and encouragement is the first step.

Self-esteem is just one facet of an ever-evolving life in recovery. Developing a higher sense of self-worth can be the foundation on which you build a life beyond your wildest dreams. It all starts with you.

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