Alcoholism & Perfectionism

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There are numerous risk factors that make a person more susceptible to the development of an alcohol use disorder. Some of the better-known risk factors include genetic predisposition, the age of initial use, the presence of untreated mental health concerns, and environmental factors. Recent studies show that perfectionism is also a major risk factor in the development of alcoholism. One study states, “The perfectionistic profile is consistent with those of previous studies showing lower self-evaluation (e.g., higher self-blame and reduced self-esteem) and impaired social cognition (e.g., unrealistic social standards and greater social isolation) in SAUD. In view of its potential role in the development and maintenance of SAUD, perfectionism may constitute a valuable treatment target in patients with this disorder.” Essentially, this means that those with perfectionistic tendencies are more likely to reach for alcohol as a means of self-medication when they feel defeated, or as if they are not living up to their own expectations.

If you or someone you love is struggling with an alcohol use disorder, entering into a 12 Step program might be an ideal treatment option. 12 Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) focus on “character defects,” which means identifying self-defeating character traits that could use attention and making positive changes surrounding those traits. Perfectionism is actually a topic commonly covered in AA meetings because so many AA members find it relatable. To learn more about 12 Step treatment options in your region of the East Coast, contact us today.

What is Perfectionism?

What exactly is perfectionism? The American Psychological Association defines perfectionism as, “The tendency to demand of others or of oneself an extremely high or even flawless level of performance, in excess of what is required by the situation. It is associated with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental health problems.” In many cases, perfectionism begins during childhood. It often stems from a fear of disapproval or rejection, and from a disproportionate amount of pressure being put on personal performance from a young age. For example, say a child grows up in a home where straight As are expected, and anything less is considered punishable. Maybe this child gets a B on a report card and gets physically reprimanded. They learn that imperfection is unacceptable, and that they are only “worthy of love” if they consistently get good marks in school.

In some cases, a person develops perfectionistic tendencies later on in life. Some people are simply too hard on themselves. This behavior is not always learned, but it is always problematic.

Perfectionism and Alcoholism

The Research Society on Alcoholism published an article that reads, “Perfectionist people might perceive an exaggerated gap between their own high standards and alcohol-related consequences, fearing academic or professional failure.” Self-oriented perfectionism in severe cases of alcoholism is higher among men and individuals with a high level of education (college graduates). “In view of the potential role of perfectionism in developing and maintaining severe AUD, it may be a valuable treatment target,” the study concludes. This means that in order for treatment to be fully effective, it must address underlying issues — including perfectionism.

Other Character Traits Common Among Alcoholics

There are several other self-defeating character traits common among alcoholics. If you identify with any of the traits listed in this article and you have been struggling to control your drinking, you are not alone — and there is help available.


Those who struggle with alcohol use disorders are often highly impulsive. This means they do not weigh out potential consequences before making major life decisions or before acting in ways that could ultimately prove damaging to them.

For example, say you get paid on a Friday and you decide to go shopping with your friends on Saturday. You know that your paycheck is enough to cover your rent and utilities, which are due the following week. While shopping, you see an expensive (but super cute) jacket. Without thinking, you purchase the jacket. The following week you realize that you spent your rent money on the jacket — you had made an impulsive purchase without considering the consequences of your actions.

Low Self-Esteem

Those who struggle with alcohol use disorders tend to suffer from low self-esteem. Perfectionism and low self-esteem or a low sense of self-worth often go hand-in-hand. A person might hold themself to an unrealistically high standard, then engage in self-deprecating, negative, and detrimental self-talk when they fall short of their expectations. They might say things like, “I’m so stupid,” or “I should be able to get this, I’m such an idiot.” Part of the recovery process is learning how to speak kindly and compassionately to yourself, while having realistic expectations of yourself and of others.

Deceptive or Manipulative

Many alcoholics are highly intelligent. Unfortunately, while active in their alcoholism, they have a propensity to use this intelligence to deceive and manipulate. For evil rather than for good, shall we say. To the alcoholic, there is nothing more important than continuing to drink. This compulsive alcohol use is a result of altered brain chemistry, but it often presents itself in behavioral changes (part of the reason why so many confuse the disease of alcoholism with a matter of weak moral standing). Being deceptive and manipulative often shows itself as a defense mechanism developed to protect alcohol consumption and the cycle of self-destruction.

Contact Us Today to Learn More

Making the decision to pursue a life of recovery is never easy. Fortunately, as soon as you make the initial decision to get sober, you will have an ample amount of help, guidance, and support for the remainder of the process. At 12 Step East Coast we are available to help you every step of the way. As soon as you reach out you will be connected with an experienced and compassionate member of our team who will guide you through a series of questions. These questions are geared towards helping you find the help you need in a timely manner. Some important factors to consider are whether or not you require medical detox or inpatient treatment, the type of substance you were using and for how long, and whether or not you are willing to travel for treatment. At 12 Step East Coast we are ready to connect you with a 12 Step program that meets your needs, while answering any additional questions you may have. We look forward to speaking with you soon and helping you get started on your personal recovery journey.

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