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Low Self Esteem Often Leads to Substance Abuse But When is This Personality Trait Formed?

low self-esteem substance abuse

It has long been known that low self esteem can contribute to substance abuse in teens and adults, but when is self esteem formed? This question is an important one, because knowing this fact could help with the development of new treatment modalities that increase self esteem in at risk populations. According to a study performed by researchers at Washington University self esteem is something that stays fairly stable through life once it has developed, and this trait of personality may already be set by the age of 5 years old. Dr. Dario Cvencek, the lead author of the study, explained “Our work provides the earliest glimpse to date of how preschoolers sense their selves. We found that as young as five years of age self-esteem is established strongly enough to be measured, and we can measure it using sensitive techniques.” Dr. Cvencek also stated “Self-esteem appears to play a critical role in how children form various social identities. Our findings underscore the importance of the first five years as a foundation for life.”

The study on self esteem could help improve treatments used to prevent or address substance abuse. If low self esteem can be avoided then the individual may not start using alcohol or drugs in the first place. Dr. Andrew Meltzoff, a co-author on the study, discussed the findings. “Some scientists consider preschoolers too young to have developed a positive or negative sense about themselves. Our findings suggest that self-esteem, feeling good or bad about yourself, is fundamental. It is a social mindset children bring to school with them, not something they develop in school. What aspects of parent-child interaction promote and nurture preschool self-esteem? That’s the essential question. We hope we can find out by studying even younger children.”

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