The Pitfalls of Perfectionism


The Pitfalls of Perfectionism


Perfectionism has many different ties to addiction, from being a predisposing trait to sabotaging recovery efforts. It’s a perilous form of black and white thinking that can motivate success while also causing an endless inner struggle. Breaking down the pitfalls of perfectionism related to substance misuse and addiction treatment provides an eye-opening look at how an often misunderstood personality trait can work as a double-edged sword.


  • Unrealistic expectations. Perfectionists tend to set their sights high for achievement, often making unreasonably lofty goals that cause extreme stress and often devastating displeasure when flawlessness is not achieved.

  • High pressure. People with perfectionistic tendencies have a constant stream of harsh criticisms of their performance regardless of how essential or dire the task may be, often leading to disproportional disappointment surrounding inconsequential things.

  • Codependent tendencies. Praise from others is a high priority for perfectionists, so when they don’t achieve their goal of pleasing others, the feeling of failure is overwhelming, regardless of how they feel about their performance. This opens the door to codependent relationships where pleasure is derived from constantly doing things for others, even to one’s own detriment.

  • All or nothing. Perfectionism can cause a defeatist attitude in some people, preventing them from taking on challenges if they feel the circumstances aren’t ideal for them to achieve a task perfectly.


How Perfectionism Can Lead to Addiction

Perfectionists are more prone to addiction due to the constant pressure they place upon themselves and the emotional highs and lows that come with perfect achievements and what they may perceive as failures. To handle the immense emotional rollercoaster, many may turn to substance misuse as a coping mechanism or performance enhancer to achieve their goals. This system of self-medication can quickly spiral out of control and turn into a full-fledged addiction.

Some experts say that it’s possible to be addicted to perfectionism itself, as a concept, which is what drives many people to such extreme highs and lows. Although it’s not recognized as an official behavioral addiction, it’s still a harmful thought pattern that can fuel additional mental illness, making people prone to habitual substance misuse.


Avoiding Perfectionism in Recovery

Before treatment even begins, some people struggling with addiction feel it’s not the “right time” to attempt to achieve recovery. With their resilience at an all-time low due to drugs rewiring their brain and making simple tasks seem insurmountable, they will put off trying to achieve recovery until they believe they’re strong enough to “perfect” it. Unfortunately, that time usually never comes, and their downward spiral continues further.


When patients with perfectionist tendencies finally attend treatment and work diligently towards long-lasting recovery they want to achieve as much as possible to ensure their success. This can lead to a fantastic start to treatment and full compliance with their treatment program but can quickly lead to a downward spiral due to even the most minor setbacks.


Relapse, which is part of recovery and can happen to even the most committed patients, is particularly devastating to perfectionists, potentially leading them down a quick spiral of regression due to feeling like they’ve failed and ruined their otherwise outstanding performance through treatment. This type of harmful thinking can be prevented with relapse prevention education and a post-relapse plan with the help of a substance use counselor. Recovery Services of New Mexico provides enrolled patients with specialized counseling to assist with the emotional aspects of treatment and the recovery journey to ensure their chances of success. There is hope for those with substance use disorder, and the perfect time to take the first step towards health and healing is now. Contact a local RSONM facility today to learn more.