Rebuilding Body Image After Substance Abuse

Contributor: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, Special Projects Coordinator at Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope

Portrait of attractive young woman gazing positivelyBody image can be a concerning thing for countless individuals across the world, regardless of background, cultural and experience.

While many factors contribute to body image, body image is generally defined by how a person views themselves and what their perception is about how they view themselves. This may change and be influenced by circumstances, emotions, behavior and more.

For the person dealing with substance abuse or an addiction to drugs or alcohol, the unfolding consequences can absolutely alter how someone views themselves and their body image. For some people, being under the influence of a particular drug or alcohol can change their perception of their body and resulting body image.

If an individual is dealing with distorted cognition, judgment, and perception, this can alter how they view themselves and their body. If a person addicted to drugs and alcohol is also suffering with physical consequences of substance abuse, this can also negatively impact the way the feel about themselves and their body.

Factors in Body Image

Poor body image can also be the result of many other factors, such as underlying mental illnesses, an eating disorder, or body dysmorphic disorder. If poor body image has become debilitating to the point that a person is unable to complete their normal and daily activities, it is crucial to seek out professional help and guidance.

If other factors are influencing poor body image in addition to substance abuse, these issues should be addressed for a holistic approach to recovery.

Treatment Approaches for Rebuilding a Healthy Body Image

Mother soothes crying daughterTreatment approaches often involve addressing the higher concerning and underlying issue. If you are struggling with substance abuse and poor body image and only seek treatment for body image, you may be only treating a symptom of a greater problem. This may not be effective in getting to the root cause of what might be influencing your poor body image.

Treating underlying conditions, such as substance abuse, should be a higher priority, as this will contribute to many other complications – including physical, mental, and emotional consequences.

Treatment for substance abuse typically addresses the myriad of factors involved and helps an individual recover in multiple ways. Perhaps your poor body image has resulted from malnutrition, brain damage from substance abuse, and many other factors. Healing physically and mentally through proper nutrition, medical stabilization, and psychotherapy can all help contribute to the rebuilding of a healthier body image. These are all areas that are commonly addressed in a multi-professional approach to recovery from substance abuse.

There Are No Instant Cures

You may find that even after recovering from substance abuse that you continue to struggle with poor body image. There are many ways that you can help promote positive body image within yourself and throughout your recovery. Be aware of your surroundings and whom you spend your time with.

Are you constantly around individuals who speak negatively of themselves or of your body? Are you in an environment where body shaming is of frequent conversation? If so, you may consider changing your social circles to support a more positive body image of yourself.

Runner feet running on road closeup on shoe. woman fitness sunriTake the initiative to participate in activities that promote a healthy body image. This may take some practice and may be counter to what you have been used to, especially in dealing with substance abuse. However, by practicing new and healthier habits, you can begin to build positive behaviors that uphold your commitment and resolve to building a healthier body image.

Positive Affirmations

This may involve having positive affirmations around your house or in places that you will frequently see them, such as taped on your mirror or on your refrigerator. You may include affirmations that say, “I am worthy”, “I am beautiful person inside and out”, “I have many qualities that make me a valuable and lovable person”.

By focusing on the positive things about yourself that you can appreciate, you will begin to acknowledge your self worth and importance.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Have you dealt with poor body image as a result of substance abuse? What was helpful for you in rebuilding your body image in recovery from substance abuse? What encouragement or advice might you share with others who may be in a similar situation?

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on July 7th, 2015
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