Negative Self Image and Poor Self Esteem are the Real Cause of Substance Abuse and Drug and Alcohol Addiction
We are in the midst of the worst drug epidemic in the history of this country. Everyday more and more addicts and alcoholics are dying of drug abuse and overdoes. It appears that nothing that is currently being done to help has had any positive effect on stopping or even reducing the devastation that is now taking place. The treatment industry is totally inadequate for helping with this serious social problem. I believe that we need a new perspective, a paradigm shift, that will enable us to better understand drug and alcohol addiction and as a result, allow us to develop and provide more effective, efficient treatment and counseling services. The intention of this document is to start that needed and overdue conversation and ultimately assist us in helping those that are suffering from using drugs and alcohol.
Based on my education, research and clinical experience, I believe that the fundamental cause of drug and alcohol addiction is ideational in nature. It is my belief that the primary cause of substance abuse and addiction is to be found within the addict or alcoholic, in his thinking or thought process, not outside him, not the drugs, physicians or pharmaceutical companies as society currently believes. It is my experience that the addict and alcoholic have a core belief that they are not good enough, a belief that defines the fundamental nature of their self-image and negatively impacts every area of their life, financial, employment, housing, relationships and even their health. This negative self-image produces negative feelings and poor self-esteem resulting in a lack of self-love, eventually creating negative physical consequences for their health and well being through their using of drugs and alcohol. As we know, the physical consequences of addiction can even include death.
This core belief, what I refer to as the self-limiting belief, has been in existence within the addict or alcoholic for years, getting its birth or genesis between the ages of three and six. The self-limiting belief tells us that we are not good enough and is created by us from the reactions of the adults around us early in life. We are the authors of this self limiting belief and fully responsible for its origin and continued existence. The self-limiting belief was not imposed on us or caused by others. The self-limiting belief is solely of our creation, created from our perceptions of our interactions with others, usually our parents early in life. This self limiting belief sets limits on what we can create and experience and even creates the possibility of our demise.
While we do our best to change the core belief that we are not good enough it continues to exist inside us like a deadly virus. We try our best to eradicate this belief, sometimes consciously but mostly unconsciously, by doing and having things, to be good enough in the eyes of others. Our efforts to change are mostly external, rarely internal. While we may get some temporary relief from doing and having things that make us feel good, at night when we are alone we continue to feel the existence of this self limiting belief, we continue to think and feel that we are not good enough regardless of what we have accomplished or accumulated that day or in our life. As a result of this thought process, we continue to consciously experience this low grade depressive, anxious feeling.
Living in our society we eventually discover the existence of drugs and alcohol. When we first experience drugs and alcohol we tend to feel good as a result of using them. While we are not necessarily conscious of the fact, the using of drugs and alcohol also gives us relief from the emotional experience and impact of a negative self-image that we created with our negative thinking. Initially upon the discovery of drugs and alcohol we start to think that we have discovered the cure or solution to our malady. It is at this point that we begin to form an addiction to or habitual use of drugs and alcohol to make us feel good, or at least better. Simply stated, addiction is the repetitious use of drugs and alcohol to help us to feel good and give us relief from the emotional impact and even psychic pain created by our self-limiting belief, by our negative thinking and thoughts about ourselves.
As stated above, we created our self-limiting belief from our perceptions of other people’s actions and behavior towards us. Having created the self-limiting belief we are also completely responsible for its existence and everything that it eventually sources or attracts into our life, including the drugs and alcohol. The self-limiting belief is like a magnet, a magnet that attracts experiences that must be a match to the self-limiting belief. If the core of our self image belief is negative it will only attach something negative in nature, negative in the sense that it is not in alignment with our health and well being. As we created and are responsible for our self-limiting belief you could also state that we choose it. Creating and choosing our thoughts are synonymous in this respect.
Drugs and alcohol are sourced into our lives to serve us. Initially we bring them into our lives to help us feel better and to reduce our cognitive and emotional pain produced by our negative thinking and thought process. While the self-limiting belief determines the context from which we make our decisions and choose our experiences, we are responsible for the existence of and our relationship with drugs and alcohol, for the bringing of them into our life. While a dependency on them may get created, our addictive relationship to drugs and alcohol only exists because of our thinking, specifically because of the existence of our self-limiting belief. When our negative self image is transformed the use of drugs and alcohol will cease. The dependency on drugs and alcohol is not physical in nature but rather mental and emotional.
Now there are implications for treatment. If the cause of drug and alcohol addiction is in our thought process and specifically with our self image, what we think of our value and worth as a human being, then the individual addict or alcohol needs to transform their primary beliefs about themselves if they are to stop using drugs and alcohol. To be in recovery the addict or alcoholic has to reinvent themselves, from one that believes that he is not good enough to an individual that believes that he is perfect, whole and complete. While this sounds simple, it is not easy for the addict and alcoholic to do. Treatment programs today do not do this type of work, rather focusing only on having the client do and have certain routines and rituals that they are told will keep them clean and sober. This is not to say that the concepts of a negative self image and poor self esteem are not acknowledged in treatment programs but rather that they are usually perceived of as a consequences of using and not the cause of ones use of drugs and alcohol.
Unfortunately the type of approach to treatment and recovery that is being implemented today does not work as there is no focus on the inner self image of the individual. Simply stated, self esteem and self image are not considered to be an important factors in current treatment programs. However, the primary focus of the holistic outpatient counseling services offered at the Holistic Outpatient Counseling Center in Miami is on helping the individual learn and implement the tools necessary for him to change and transform his thinking process, for him to eventually come to create a personal, holistic plan of accepting, respecting and loving himself. The individual has to do this work and will only do so by taking complete and full responsibility for his situation and in addition, implement what is necessary for him to change his thinking. The individual will transform himself and his life when he learns to authentically accept, approve, respect and love himself. We know that the individuals that we serve have the power to change their life if they do the work of transformation.
Dr. Harry Henshaw