When you think of someone struggling with a substance use disorder, “perfectionist” may not be the first word that comes to mind. We tend to think of perfectionists as people who have it together, who are organized, who pay attention to details. On the other hand, we may think of someone with a substance use disorder as someone who is miserable, distracted, unreliable, and increasingly unable to manage the different parts of her life. However, addiction and perfectionism are often closely related. First, someone who appears to have her life together may in fact be miserable and struggling with substance use. Keeping up appearances is one manifestation of perfectionism and successful, intelligent people will often go to great lengths to hide their substance use. What sometimes happens is that someone will feel such enormous pressure to do everything right–to look good, to perform well at work, to be a good parent or spouse, all at once–that she feels like she needs some kind of relief from the stress. This might take the form of having a few glasses of wine every night after work or maybe using stimulants just to have the energy to get everything done. However, perfectionism doesn’t always look perfect. Perfectionism is more about an attitude. If you have unrealistically high standards for yourself, you are bound to feel like a failure most of the time. What’s more, if you’re a perfectionist, failure is not ok; it means you’re inadequate as a person. As a result, perfectionists criticize themselves harshly. Often, this attitude is learned in childhood while trying to please a critical or volatile parent. You learn you have to do everything just right or the consequences will be extremely bad. In reality, nothing is ever done just right and the consequences are rarely catastrophic. Nevertheless, perfectionists get stuck in a cycle of procrastination, failure, and self-castigation, which can lead to anxiety, depression, and addiction. Perfectionism can also make recovery from addiction more difficult. The common AA saying, “Progress, not perfection,” is some indication of the extent of the problem. The path to recovery is never smooth. Some days are very hard. Most people slip up or relapse at least once. These kinds of setbacks can be intolerable for a perfectionist. Their unrealistic expectations apply to recovery as well. They think they should be able to flip a switch and leave their substance use behind them, even though that’s almost impossible. Perfectionism is often deeply ingrained and difficult to overcome. Perfectionists often feel like setting more realistic expectations for themselves is like accepting defeat. They may hold this belief despite mountains of evidence that this way of thinking has not worked very well for them. It often takes a skilled therapist to help someone escape the perfectionist trap.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.