Does Low Self-Esteem in Teens Lead to Alcohol & Drug Abuse?


Self-esteem is the feeling of being both loved and capable, according to staff writers at the KidsHealth website. Children begin to define their self-worth while quite young and the patterns they establish often persist into adulthood. Healthy self-esteem can be a protective factor against the inevitable disappointments of life. A low sense of self-esteem, however, can increase the risk that teens will turn to substance abuse, according to Carole Bennett, a substance abuse counselor and author of “Reclaim Your Life: You and the Alcoholic/Addict,” in an August 2009 article for “The Huffington Post.”

Developing Self-Esteem

  • A child with healthy self-esteem is more likely to be able to resist pressure and handle conflict because she knows her own strengths and weaknesses. Teens with healthy self-esteem tend to be realistic and optimistic. A teen with low self-esteem, on the other hand, often reacts to life’s challenges with anxiety and frustration and might have difficulty finding a solution when a problem crops up. The process of trying something, learning from failure and being willing to try again is an integral part of developing self-esteem, according to KidsHealth.

Signs of Low Self-Esteem

  • Typical signs of low self-esteem in a teen include comments such as, “I can’t ever do anything right,” or “Why should I try when I can’t learn it, anyway?” A teen with low self-esteem is often easily frustrated, and might just give up or wait for someone else to take over the task. Pessimism is a common characteristic of a teen who has low self-esteem, according to KidsHealth, and she might also be very critical of herself. These teens might also say that no one cares about them or what they do. Any teen might make an occasional self-critical comment, but teens with low self-esteem will make them regularly.

Other Factors

  • In addition to low self-esteem, teens who turn to alcohol and other drugs usually have a number of risk factors, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. These include a family history of substance abuse, depression and a feeling that they don’t fit in. Teens without these risk factors might experiment with substances such as marijuana, but teens with low self-esteem as well as other risk factors are more likely to become dependent on drugs or alcohol, according to AACAP. Drug use can also increase the risk of accidents, violence, unsafe or unplanned sexual activity and suicide.

Self-Esteem and Gender

  • Research at Florida State University indicated that very low self-esteem in preteen boys increases the risk of drug dependency, according to an April 2006 article on the university’s website. Researchers studied 872 boys over a period of nine years. They found that boys who had very low self-esteem at age 11 and who had friends who approved of alcohol and other drug use were 1.6 times more likely to be dependent on drugs by age 20 than their peers. Teen boys who tried drugs at age 13 were also more likely to become drug-dependent. The study did not include teen girls, and the researchers noted that teen girls are less likely to turn to substance abuse and more likely to develop depression and eating disorders.


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