Perfectionism and alcoholism may seem like an unlikely combination, but they often go hand in hand. While we all want to be our best, sometimes aiming too high can lead to disappointment, stress and issues with alcohol. Here we take a closer look at one of alcoholism’s greatest ironies.

Perfectionism and Alcoholism


  • Perfectionism can bring great successes, but it can also bring great struggles.
  • Perfectionism and alcoholism may seem like an unlikely combination, but they often go hand in hand. Here’s why:

It’s one of the great ironies of alcohol dependence: perfectionism and the need to drink often go hand in hand. While classic stereotypes often paint those who struggle with alcohol as somehow lacking in drive and personal strength, very often the opposite is true. Many turn to alcohol because they aim too high, needing the crutch of alcohol to deal with what can become a never-ending sense of failure and the resulting erosion of self-worth.

While perfectionism can bring great successes, it can also bring great struggles. Many perfectionists by nature avoid any substance that inhibits their performance, but those who turn to alcohol to relieve the pressure can quickly become dependent as they struggle with the stress of not realising all of their goals, often requiring alcohol addiction treatment. Indeed, the difference between high achievers and those who struggle with alcohol abuse issues may not be as great as we think.

Positive and Negative Perfectionism

One 2014 study, ‘The Relationship between Perfectionism and Coping Strategies in Drug-dependent Men’, made the important distinction between positive and negative perfectionism. While positive perfectionists tend to gravitate towards success, those with negative perfectionist tendencies can enter a cycle of self-blame that “leads to creation and maintenance of anxiety, depression, and helplessness”.

“These individuals use denial, alcohol, and drugs to avoid dealing with stressful agents and to feel better and relaxed,” the study concluded.

If your friend, partner or family member is drinking excessively, being aware of their tendency to beat themselves up over the small stuff can be a crucial step toward successful recovery. While there is a certain irony to helping a perfectionist better themselves, gentle encouragement and support for your alcohol-addicted loved one can make all the difference in a successful recovery.

Is Your Drinking Getting Out of Control?

To help you gain a clearer understanding of what your loved one is going through, here are some of the ways that perfectionism and alcoholism are linked:

Perceived Failures

The plight of the perfectionist is that life can become a series of perceived failures as they consistently fall short of their often unattainable ideals. The constant self-criticism and feelings of inadequacy can lead them to turn to alcohol to dampen the pain.

Dwelling on Mistakes

Perfectionists not only dwell on mistakes in their past, but tend to expect failure in the future as well. This can lead to feelings of hopelessness that make it difficult for them to take the essential first steps towards recovery.


Those with perfectionist tendencies will feel the disappointment of any relapse far more acutely than others. Rather than viewing an isolated relapse as a blip on the road to recovery and a valuable learning experience, the perfectionist will more likely view it as abject failure while disregarding the progress that was made before the relapse.

Unwilling to Ask for Help

Perfectionists will often believe they should have the coping strategies to deal with any issues, including alcoholism, themselves, and may be reluctant to seek outside help.

Unreasonably High Standards

Perfectionists can alienate those closest to them by applying the same ideals to others as they do to themselves. This, along with alcoholism itself, can make perfectionists difficult to approach.

Helping Loved Ones Help Themselves

While helping a perfectionist confront their issues with alcohol can be a challenging process, even just a little encouragement and support can make a very real difference. Here are a few ways you can help your loved one take their faults in their stride and aid a successful recovery:

Show them how you accept and learn from your own mistakes.

None of us enjoy falling short of our goals, but sometimes there is simply no point in sweating the small stuff. Try to engage with your loved one when you have a bad day or make a mistake to show them it is not the end of the world.

Help them build their self-esteem.

Maintaining a sense of self-worth is one of the biggest challenges faced by perfectionists. Make sure your loved one knows you value them not for what they achieve, but for who they are, and encourage them not to beat themselves up over the little things.

Focus on the positive.

Many perfectionists are so focused on their real and perceived shortcomings that their accomplishments tend to go unnoticed. Help them focus on what they have achieved and the positive outcomes it will bring.

Encourage them to let go.

Sometimes imperfect is good enough. Whether it is a blip on the road to recovery or making a mistake in some other aspect of life, let your loved one know that falling a little short is not always such a bad thing. Learning to let these small disappointments go will help them lead a healthier and happier life.

Get Help for Your Loved One

Professional Counselling and Rehab for Alcoholism

The road to recovery for any perfectionist should be viewed as a series of little steps. Injecting positivity into your loved one’s day-to-day life can help them take those little setbacks in their stride and create a solid foundation for a successful recovery from alcoholism.

Once your loved one is ready, professional counselling or rehab can help them come to terms with any remaining issues and aid them through the recovery process. Qualified therapists will be well aware of perfectionist tendencies and will be in a position to bolster the progress you have made at home.

The Cabin Hong Kong’s qualified therapists and counsellors are specially trained to treat alcohol addiction. Discreet, holistic rehab programmes will equip your loved one with all the tools they need to put their alcohol dependence behind them and enjoy a fuller and happier life. Contact us today to find out how we can help.