How to Rebuild Your Self-Esteem After Rehab

When someone is grappling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, the effects aren’t just physical — they’re psychological as well. Among related symptoms like physiological dependency, addiction creates a complex relationship between substance abuse and a person’s self-esteem.

Because self-esteem is a complicated issue in addiction recovery, the effects drug use and abuse have on the way a person sees themselves — and how that affects their actions — are worth paying close attention to. While rehab provides all the tools necessary for people to begin taking charge of their mental and emotional help, rebuilding self-esteem is a process that can’t be completed in the few weeks or months that rehab lasts.

building self-esteem after rehab

For individuals leaving treatment programs with a new lease on life, building and maintaining confidence after rehab can be a real stumbling block. Without it, relationships may suffer, cravings may be harder to resist and the overall risk of relapse can jump.

How can someone take the resources offered during treatment and apply them to the real world after rehab? First, ask yourself these questions to ensure you really understand where you are in the process of regaining confidence.

What Is Low Self-Esteem?

In definitive terms, esteem is a personal evaluation of how the world judges worth. Esteem is completely subjective and highly emotional — which makes it hard to separate your own perceptions from how other people actually feel about you. Self-esteem is built on your own judgments and attitudes toward yourself, so when it’s low you may have a hard time seeing any of the positives in yourself and your life.

How Can It Affect My Recovery?

Because recovery from addiction is a process of forming new attitudes and habits, the doubts and emotional turbulence brought on by low self-confidence can put a damper on your progress. During rehab, you’re able to focus intensely on self-esteem and other emotional aspects of recovery, but it can be difficult to maintain that scaffolding out in the real world. Without real work on maintaining a balanced self-image, you may find that framework can begin to erode or fall apart altogether — resulting in a potential relapse.

building self-esteem after addiction

Low self-esteem can also do real damage in relationships that are new or in the process of healing. When someone has low confidence, they may choose to avoid the interactions and confrontations that are necessary to foster emotional healing in the time after rehab. They may also have trouble feeling like they deserve their recovery, or are worthy of a happy and healthy life after addiction.

Do I Have Low Self-Esteem?

The fact is that most people emerging from rehab will have many ups and downs in the time following treatment. The amount of time a person is affected by low self-esteem varies among individuals, but is characterized by a few key traits. Ask yourself if you identify with any of these statements:

  • Is recovery even worth it?
  • My friends and family don’t respect me.
  • I don’t deserve to be happy.
  • I will never be fully recovered.

Statements like these are associated with low self-confidence, and they can sneak into your mind without you even realizing how damaging they are to recovery. It’s perfectly natural for these thoughts and emotions to occur, but the way you deal with them can mean the difference between continued recovery and relapse.

7 Basic Tips for Boosting Self-Confidence

A drop in self-esteem has far-reaching effects for a person in recovery, but it can produce negative outcomes in the short term as well. You should keep a set of strategies on hand to refer to when you’re facing a swift and negative shift in self-image. Here are seven things to remember when you feel like handling recovery is just too much.

1. You Can’t Do Everything at Once

Many people are harder on themselves than anyone else, so it can be easy to get ahead of yourself and think that you’re not doing enough to move your recovery along. You may fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others, and feel that your progress is inadequate. Remember that recovery is a process that has to be taken one step at a time, at your own pace and not at anyone else’s. Don’t diminish your own accomplishments — after all, completing rehab is a huge step in and of itself!

2. Self-Esteem Comes From the Inside Out

When you’re setting out on a new journey, it’s tempting to seek reassurance and praise from others. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting emotional support during your recovery, you have to remember that self-esteem isn’t built on the backs of compliments. Praise and attention from others can provide a temporary Band-Aid for periods of low self-confidence, but to really build and maintain self-esteem you’ll have to bring it out from within yourself.

3. Your Feelings Don’t Mean You’re a Failure

Recovering from drug and alcohol addiction is a tremendously emotional endeavor, and you’re guaranteed to experience a rollercoaster of very intense feelings. At times, it can seem like those feelings are out of your control and are holding you back from your full potential.

Remember that your feelings are natural, and it’s how you deal with them that matters. For example, you may be having a really tough time dealing with cravings — but that means that you have another opportunity to respond healthily and further your victory over addiction.

4. Watch Your Words

We often underestimate how much language affects our self-perceptions. It’s easy to slip into defeatist language and bring yourself down without even intending to. A great strategy is to try and catch yourself talking negatively about your recovery. When you do, attach a positive point to the statement.

building self-esteem after rehab relapse

For example, you may find yourself thinking, “This is incredibly difficult today.” Remember to tell yourself that even though it may be extra difficult today, with time it will get easier. Maintaining a balanced perception of your recovery can be tough, but working at it will make regaining self-confidence after rehab easier.

5. Find Room for Self-Forgiveness

You have enough hurdles to jump after rehab even when you aren’t your own worst enemy — so make sure to remember the value of forgiving yourself. You may have made many mistakes in your time struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, but that doesn’t make you a bad person. Forgiving yourself is tough, but by owning up to your mistakes, reaching out and making amends, you can stop being at odds with yourself and face recovery as a whole and unified person.

rebuilding self-esteem after rehab

6. Celebrate Milestones

If there’s one thing you can’t do too much of during recovery, it’s celebrating the little victories. When you’re feeling down, it can be easy to brush off your own accomplishments as being insignificant or not enough — but allowing yourself to feel pride in your progress will only encourage you to reach new heights in your recovery. Set up a reward system for yourself so that you gain more incentive to keep the ball rolling with your newfound sobriety.

how to regain confidence after rehab

7. You’re Not Alone

It’s easy to succumb to feelings of isolation once you leave rehab. After weeks or months of living in a supportive environment with others who share your struggle, walking back into the world without that network can make you feel dangerously vulnerable.

However, leaving one network gives you the opportunity to build a permanent support network for yourself. If you’re unsure how to proceed, consider joining an aftercare program. These post-treatment support programs focus on getting you back out into the world with the encouragement and skills you need to build your own sobriety networks. You may feel temporarily isolated, but you can find others who support your recovery.

Taking time out of your day to remember these seven simple facts can go a long way in reviving your self-confidence after rehab. Though you’re in unfamiliar territory, holding on to a balanced perspective can help you keep your bearings and move forward with recovery. The way you handle stress and bad days can define your recovery, so be sure to stay positive but fair in your treatment of yourself when the going gets tough.

These tips may work for sudden attacks of low self-esteem, but how can you build up your confidence over the long term? It’s a slow and steady process, and consistency is key. Let’s take a look at some of the paths people take to find their way back to a healthy self-image.

Creating Space for Self-Esteem

One fact many people struggle with just out of rehab is the impossibility of passively accumulating greater self-esteem. Though therapy is absolutely necessary to help you understand the roots and reasons behind your self-perceptions, actually changing those roots requires intentional action.

Over the long term, it’s important to participate in groups and activities that foster a sense of purpose and drive, and create a positive environment for the individual to grow. Let’s examine some of the most common activities people take up to help return their self-esteem to normal.

Art & Music

It’s no secret why art and music therapy are so widely used in effective rehab treatment: The arts are often a perfect opportunity to express difficult emotions in a non-structured or abstract format, and can help individuals get in touch with new aspects of themselves.

If you’re drawn to creative pursuits, consider making art or music a part of your weekly routine. This can benefit your recovery by:

  • Creating a healthy habit
  • Acting as a consistent emotional outlet
  • Allowing you to progress in a skill

building self-esteem after rehab

There’s also a social aspect to art and music-making, if you’re so inclined. Taking a class or joining a local group of artists and musicians not only gives you the opportunity to improve your abilities, it allows you to become part of a group that doesn’t necessarily have addiction and recovery as its common denominator. You’ll get the chance to express yourself, extend your network and have fun doing it.

Art and music also play a big role in many communities, so if you’re the organizing type you may be able to find excellent opportunities to use your artistic talents to benefit your neighborhood. For example, you might get together a group of artists and hold a silent auction for charity, or maybe even play a benefit concert for a local cause. There are many ways for more creative individuals to contribute to the world around them, and in turn build up their self-esteem through meaningful action.

Organized Sports

Strong bodies can help support strong minds, and if you’re more physically inclined it may be an excellent idea for you to join a local sports organization. Even finding a group of people to play casual pick-up games with can be a great way for you to:

  • Meet new people
  • Practice teamwork
  • Use critical thinking and decision-making skills

Though most studies linking organized sports to higher self-esteem are done with children, team sports can have a range of positive effects on adults as well. When you finish a rehab program, you move on to a new phase of learning and building confidence. Especially for people who have a harder time working through things verbally, sports offers a structured way to exert excess energy in a team-oriented environment. It serves the purpose of socializing and building self-worth at the same time.

Depending on your situation, there’s also the chance that sports could lead to volunteering opportunities. Youth leagues and schools almost always need help organizing, staffing and running large events like tournaments — so if you feel a drive to do something community-oriented in the sporting world, you can!

Diet & Exercise

Even if you’re not into competitive sports, keeping your body healthy is still essential for optimum growth of your self-esteem. There are so many chemical and hormonal factors involved in cravings for substances that keeping a healthy diet and maintaining a basic exercise regimen can make a huge difference.

how to regain confidence after rehab

For example, cortisol is a hormone your body releases in response to stress. High cortisol levels are closely linked with negative effects such as weight gain and food cravings — and for those in recovery, cravings for drugs or alcohol too. Regular exercise decreases the body’s release of cortisol in the long term, making it a great ally for those battling cravings.

In addition to exercise, a healthy diet that’s balanced in nutrients can produce positive health outcomes like:

  • Lowered stress
  • More balanced hormones
  • Increased energy

becoming confident after rehab

While health is important for everyone, those fresh out of rehab might find it difficult to establish. Nearly all addictions result in far-reaching physiological effects that can take time to rectify through diet and exercise. For example, alcohol suppresses nutrient processing and absorption, leading to nutrient deficiency and decreased immune function.

One study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association gives hard numbers on how providing dietary education to people in treatment increases positive outcomes afterward. The outcomes were measured by changes in composite test scores on the Addiction Severity Index (ASI) in both the psychological and medical domains.

Your physical health can impact your mental and emotional health across the board, so pay attention to what your body is telling you and maintain your health through regular doctor visits and healthy habits.


One of the most consistently effective ways for people to regain self-confidence after rehab is to find a volunteering opportunity. Offering your time to any cause of your choice will allow you to foster your recovery and newfound sobriety by:

  • Allowing the practice of real-world recovery skills
  • Creating a constructive outlet
  • Offering a built-in community

There’s also the matter of personal satisfaction — an important factor in anyone’s self-esteem. To understand just how effective volunteering can be, reference the United Health Group’s 2013 study of individuals who volunteer. This research measured the attitudes and outcomes of people who had volunteered their time within the past year, and the findings were universally positive:

  • 78 percent of participants reported a decrease in their stress levels.
  • 76 percent of people said volunteering made them feel physically healthier.
  • 94 percent reported that volunteering improved their general outlook.
  • 96 percent of people who volunteered believed it enhanced their sense of purpose in life.

building self-esteem after rehab relapse

All these outcomes taken together provide possibly the perfect recipe for heightened self-confidence and, in turn, a reduced risk of relapse in people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.

Additionally, volunteering is a great tool because the variety of available positions is so vast. No matter your interests or current skillset, there’s a volunteer spot out there for you. Locations like libraries, animal shelters, disaster relief centers and many others can always use willing volunteers to help make a real impact on the community. Finding a sense of purpose is one of the most vital keys to healthy self-esteem, and volunteering is one of the clearest paths to achieving that purpose.

Bringing Skills Beyond Rehab

Now that you know how fundamental self-esteem is to a successful recovery, you should put everything you’ve learned to use. While it may seem overwhelming to look at all your options at once, over time you will begin to understand which strategies, routines and confidence-building activities work the best for you. Whether you’re the type to relax with yoga and a watercolor session, prefer to work through your emotions on the field or feel at home in a soup kitchen or an animal shelter, there’s a perfect combination — you just need to find it.

Building self-esteem isn’t an overnight process, and it requires a lot of trial and error to find the right balance. But the difficulties along the way will help you keep learning while becoming stronger in your recovery every day.

building self-esteem after addiction

A Helping Hand From 12 Keys

If you’re having trouble reintegrating into your life after rehab or regaining the self-esteem you need to make progress in recovery, you’re not alone. The expert addiction treatment staff and counselors at 12 Keys Rehab understand what you’re going through, and are here to help.

Our premiere treatment services extend to aftercare programs and are designed to help you make the most of your life after rehab through a focus on networking and the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

If you haven’t yet gotten treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, 12 Keys can offer you the benefits of a world-class holistic treatment program. A customized program focused on uniting mind and body can help you lay the groundwork for a confident and healthy life after you exit the program’s doors. Get the head start you deserve in beating addiction — call 12 Keys today.

The Addiction Blog