Perfectionism and Recovery from Addiction

Striving for Perfection

In our minds, we all have an idea of what life is supposed to be like. These ideals can extend into various aspects of our lives – from our relationships to our families, to our children, our work and more. Striving for perfection is a noble endeavor, but only if we are also able to understand and accept our limitations, which we all have; otherwise, we set ourselves up for constant disappointment. Life rarely goes according to plan, and those who expect things to be perfect are going to be regularly disappointed.

Portraying Perfectionism- Dart-board BullseyeThe same is true for substance abusers who enter recovery with high expectations of themselves; they develop an all-or-nothing approach to sobriety that sets them up for disappointment and threatens their chances for an enduring recovery.

How Perfectionism Fuels Addiction

It’s not unusual for people who give up an addiction to alcohol or drugs to become perfectionists. This might seem counter-intuitive, since substance abusers will often have wasted many years doing something that was clearly self-destructive – the opposite of self-perfection. But the reality is they may have always been perfectionists who turned to substance abuse to deal with their sense of failure at living up to their own lofty standards.

When a perfectionist becomes sober, their tendency towards perfectionism can return with a vengeance, and can sabotage their own recovery. By putting excessive demands on themselves, they ensure they will fail, which justifies a relapse back to addiction.

Managing a Perfectionist Attitude in Recovery

At 12 Keys Rehab, our therapists understand how perfectionism and all-or- nothing thinking works against a lasting recovery. We teach our clients ways to control their perfectionism in order to help them escape from addiction, including:

  • Developing feelings of gratitude for all the good things they already have in their life.

  • Accepting that where they expect recovery to take them is often not as exciting as where it is going to take them. If they trust in the process it will make it easier for them to let go of expectations.

  • Understanding that goals are not created in stone, and that sometimes it’s better to change them.

  • Learning how to let go; all an individual has to do is try their best and have faith that the universe or their higher power will do the rest.

  • Having realistic expectations, particularly in early recovery. It takes time and effort for things to improve, and there is no real way to rush the process.


By getting sober, the perfectionist is already on the right path, and they should feel good about that. All they have to do is to keep on walking that path and it will take them where they need to go. If you or someone you love is ready to take that first important step towards sobriety, call 12 Keys today toll-free at 1-866-331-6779.

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