Does perfectionism have implications for alcohol use?
by Roger Whittler, LPC, Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program Clinician
2001, researchers Stanley et al. found two key dimensions of
perfectionism: perfectionistic striving and perfectionistic concerns.
Perfectionistic striving referred to the pursuit of high personal
standards. Perfectionistic concerns involve being intensely
self-critical when not meeting high personal standards. As a licensed
professional counselor for the Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program, I
often hear lawyers express they have perfectionistic tendencies that
started in undergraduate school, so this area is of interest to me.
In a July 2021 Journal of Counseling and Development Research article, Alcohol and Substance Use Symptom Differences Between Classes of Perfectionists,
researchers Philip B. Gnilka et. al., measured levels of perfectionism
in 428 undergraduate students, in addition to screening the students for
alcohol use. Based on the 2001 research noted above, they separated the
students into four distinct perfectionistic groups: adaptive, mixed,
non-perfectionist, and maladaptive perfectionists. Adaptive
perfectionists – those who pursue high personal standards – had the
lowest level of perceived stress, while the maladaptive perfectionists –
those who intensely were self-critical – had the highest level of
maladaptive and non-perfectionist groups reported the highest levels of
behaviors and attributes associated with alcohol and substance use
problems. This information supplies much-needed insight about
perfectionism and alcohol use. Being a perfectionist can be positive
when contained to chasing something worthwhile and not the intense
self-criticism that follows not catching the prize every time. When
lawyers ask me for my advice about dealing with perfectionistic
tendencies, my response is be generous to yourself, forgive
shortcomings, and continue the pursuit of perfection. Some key points
- Perfectionism is good if it is adaptative and focused on achieving high standards.
- Perfectionism that is a source of personal criticism for shortcomings is linked to increased substance use.
- Staying focused on pursuing high personal standards, even during times of disappointment, is the goal.
Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program supplies free counseling to
members of The Missouri Bar and their families. Call toll free at 1-800-688-7859.