If you’re smart and ambitious, you likely take pride in what you do and want to make sure the work you do is the best it can possibly be. That’s a good quality to have, but it could become dangerous if you turn into a perfectionist, especially when it comes to alcohol.
Perfectionists are more likely to become alcoholics. It sounds like a strange connection to make but it actually makes a lot of sense. According to findings published in the Journal of Research in Personality, it’s not necessarily the perfectionism that causes the problem but your inability to accept your flaws and your attempt to hide it from others.
Perfectionism increases your risk of other psychological issues too. Study author Sean P. Mackinnon of Dalhousie University found that perfectionism “is a risk factor for a lot of psychopathology, specifically anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.” However, he was most interested in the relationship between perfectionism and alcoholism, specifically since previous research suggested that while not all perfectionists drink heavily, those that do tend to get way drunker and experience blacking out, getting into fights, etc.
Young adults were the subject of the study. Mackinnon had 263 young adult drinkers answer questions “to assess perfectionism, emotional states, drinking motives, and alcohol-induced problems.” One correlation was clear: the desire to have everyone else think they were perfect led the participants to experience “negative mood, drinking to cope, and drinking to fit in, which in turn were associated with alcohol problems.” Yikes.
Mackinnon was surprised by the results. “Specifically, when people feel like they have to conceal imperfections from others, they tend to experience increased negative emotions (e.g., sadness, shame, anger),” he explained. “As a result, they are at risk for drinking to cope (i.e., drinking to reduce those negative emotions) and drinking for conformity (i.e., drinking to minimize social rejection). These motivations in turn led to a higher rate of alcohol problems.”
The study has limitations but its findings are still interesting. While this study isn’t the be all, end all when it comes to research into the relationship between perfectionism and alcohol, it does give plenty of food for thought. In the end, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be perfect, it’s the pressure to appear as if you truly are that causes the issue.
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