Understanding and combating addiction is an extremely complex and difficult process. Too often people think of addiction as being purely about one thing: about a person’s history, about chemical processes, or about their environment. In nearly every situation though, it is a combination of all these things that can turn that addiction into a vicious, inescapable cycle. Feelings of worthlessness in addiction are a key part of many addictions. In this post, we’ll explore how that might fit into the puzzle.

What Causes the Feelings of Worthlessness in Addiction?

Those who struggle with addiction are often conflicted and filled with feelings of worthlessness. After all, in many senses, they are doing this to themselves and may feel powerless to stop.

Their families or loved ones may think “If only they could control themselves – if only they had enough willpower – then they could stop ravaging their own health and destroying their social ties. They could stop putting us through this extreme pain and hurt that they are experiencing.”

This may be the narrative that a loved one might tell themselves, but it is not the reality. Those who struggle with substance use disorder suffer from physical brain changes that take their behaviors out of their own hands. They suffer very real symptoms, very real pain and very real feelings of self-worthlessness.

How Does Worthlessness Fuels Addiction?

Unfortunately, however, these feelings of worthlessness do not typically motivate an individual to change the behavior that is making them feel that way. Instead, the very feeling of worthlessness is something that perpetuates the addiction in many cases. After all, if you don’t value your own health, then why would you take such extraordinary steps to protect it?

If you don’t believe that you deserve love, then why wouldn’t you continue to push your family and friends away? At some point, an addict may come to believe that their actions couldn’t possibly hurt another person: because no other person could possibly care for them deeply enough to be affected.

After all, they are worthless.

And when you consider yourself to have no willpower or no self-control, what is even the point in trying to overcome your addictive tendencies? When you consider yourself to already be destroyed, and when you are looking for an escape from the person you’ve become, what reason is there to stop the behavior?

Other Factors

This is then where many other factors then only make matters worse.

Physical addictions cause structural changes in the brain. In many cases, this results in changes in the numbers of neurotransmitter receptors. The individual thus becomes more or less susceptible to the many chemicals that are modulated by specific drugs or actions. This then means that the individual needs to perpetuate their addiction in order to achieve something similar to “normal” brain function.

When they begin to experience withdrawal, this leads to feelings of depression, lethargy, hopelessness, and worthlessness.


The environment can likewise have a big impact on an addict’s self-esteem. Often, loved ones who are trying to help will find that nothing they do or say will have an impact. Show concern and you only remind the addict that they are harming those around them. Try to take the “tough love” approach, and they may feel cornered or even victimized. Meanwhile, the person struggling with addiction will experience the gradual loss of responsibility (as others don’t trust them to perform actions they previously did), of respect, and even of physical health and financial status.

The person is being robbed of any power that they once had. The simple fact though, is that without a belief in themselves, an addict won’t be able to find the strength or the conviction to make a meaningful change to their behavior. This must come from within, but that is not to say that other people cannot help. By showing support and unconditional love, and by being there for an addict when they need us, we all can help them to find that strength and help with their self-image. Interventions such as CBT, therapy, and recovery coaching can help to fortify mental faculties and strength-en against the ravages of addiction.


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