How to Deal With Low Self Esteem in Recovery

Low self esteem in recovery from Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) or Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is a common problem. This is the result of many factors. Shame from the past, feelings of worthlessness, fear of the future and facing the many problems that come with living sober can all contribute to low self esteem in recovery. This can quickly spiral into greater problems such as depression. It can also lead to relapse. Though gaining esteem is difficult, it is possible. Anyone coping with plow self esteem in recovery should take time to address the issue before it becomes worse. The feelings of relief are profound and will make living sober that much more enjoyable.

What is Self Esteem

Self esteem is one of of those catchphrases that gets used frequently. It is also misused often. This means that it is commonly misunderstood. Before you can fix poor esteem, it helps to know exactly what it is.

In short, self esteem is how you think about yourself. People with high self esteem think of themselves as valuable. They believe their opinion matters. Taking care of themselves is important. They set appropriate boundaries. They would describe themselves as likable, lovable and capable. Perhaps most importantly, they don’t insult themselves. In their thoughts they are kind to themselves at all times. Since they see themselves as valuable, they treat themselves with care. The same way as they would with a valuable possession.

Signs of Low Self Esteem in Recovery

Low self-esteem is the opposite of high self-esteem. Those with this issue do not think of themselves as worthwhile. They do not think they’re good enough. They frequently tell themselves they are stupid, ugly, useless, disgusting and any number of other insults. People with poor esteem judge themselves harshly at all times. Their thoughts about themselves are often – if not always – negative. These are some common symptoms of low self-esteem in recovery:

  • Social Isolation
  • Frequent Apologizing
  • Giving in During Arguments
  • Avoiding Challenging or Difficult Situations
  • Judgement and Criticism of Others
  • Pessimistic Outlook – especially about your own life and future.
  • Feeling Unable to Make Changes in Your Own Life
  • Feeling Unappealing and Unlikable

These are only some of the warning signs. In short, if you don’t truly like yourself and can’t see how worthwhile you are, you likely have low self-esteem in recovery.

Having low self-esteem in recovery is normal. Part of alcohol and substance use is covering up negative feelings. When sober, there’s no way to numb these out. There’s also the humiliation and social stigma that comes from the addiction itself. All of this combines to make those in recovery suffer even more. Fortunately, it is possible to overcome poor self image with a little work.

Repairing Low Self Esteem in Recovery

Improving your confidence and self-worth are the primary keys to improving esteem. These tools can help you gain a greater sense of purpose and value to the world:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is the best first step. It is an evidence-based therapy method that helps identify harmful thoughts and replace them with more helpful thoughts. This works well because self-esteem comes entirely from what you think. By challenging the negative or hurtful thoughts you have, you can find useful thoughts that serve you.

CBT is most effective when done with a counselor or therapist. These people provide a kind, supportive environment to help you grow. CBT can also be done alone with the help of CBT literature. However you do it, it can help free you from the pain of low self-esteem in recovery.

Support Groups

Human beings are social creatures. We need the support and affection of others to feel good. When we’re in recovery, we need it even more.

Support groups are important for anyone recovering from any type of addiction. These provide the understanding and companionship that comes from being around people who understand us. People in support groups can show us how to be happier and make us feel useful. By being around people who share our difficulties, we no longer feel alone. Instead, we are part of a greater whole, and that makes us feel appreciated.

Seek out a support group that is right for you. A few common support groups for those in recovery are:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
  • Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
  • Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART)
  • Refuge Recovery
  • Celebrate Recovery
  • Rational Recovery
  • LifeRing
  • Women for Sobriety (WFS)

Don’t feel the need to limit yourself to one. Also don’t feel the need to only go to support groups for recovery. Many people who battle with AUD and SUD are dual-diagnosis. This means having other mental health difficulties as well. You may have depression or codependency. These impact your self-esteem. Try as many groups as possible. Stick with the ones that make you feel good.


Moving our bodies helps improve our mental state. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain. By doing this, it increases neurons. It also releases endorphins, which make you feel better. Exercise also makes your body feel and look better. In turn, this makes you feel better about yourself.

Do Meaningful Work

Making the world better helps us feel better. When we see that we’ve done something to improve life, we feel better about ourselves. This can be anything that interests you. If you love animals, volunteering at a shelter could make you feel better. Mentoring a child might work best for you. Whatever you do, feeling able to make positive change is vital to feeling like you matter.

Learn Something

Gaining a new skill, or improving an existing skill will improve how you feel about yourself. Learn a language, try an instrument, read informative books or simply build something to make your life easier. When we learn we feel more capable, which makes us feel constructive. This enhances our opinion of ourselves.

Set Goals

Setting a few simple goals and then meeting them provides a sense of accomplishment. The key here is to keep it simple and attainable. Setting unrealistic goals we can’t meet will make us feel worse. Aim for making your bed or eating a salad for one meal. Taking a 15-minute walk, doing a basic chore or taking time to do something pleasurable are all worthy goals. Set one and do it. Celebrate every victory, however small.

Combating low self esteem in recovery can be the difference between staying sober and relapsing. The better you feel, the more chance you have to succeed in living sober. Take little steps and focus on being kind to yourself. You’re worth it and you deserve happiness.