Perfectionists may face an increased risk of serious alcohol use disorders

  • Alcohol use disorder is a mental health condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol consumption despite its negative social, health, or occupational impacts.
  • People with this condition can have mild, moderate, or severe symptoms.
  • New research suggests that personality traits such as perfectionism can increase a person’s vulnerability to severe forms of alcohol use disorder.
  • In the study, scientists found that certain types of perfectionism may play a bigger role than others in the development of severe alcohol use disorder.
  • Yet other personality traits and mental health issues can also be risk factors for the disease.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is recognized as a mental health condition by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR). It affects approximately 14 million adults in the United States and is the third preventable cause of death.

A person with AUD can have mild, moderate, or severe forms of the disorder, depending on how many diagnostic criteria they meet.

Although there is no primary or dominant individual risk factor for the development of AUD, the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that age, gender, marital status, and socioeconomic status may play a role. Additionally, a 2018 study found that people with impaired cognitive control, impulsivity, and negative emotions may be more likely to develop AUD.

According to a new studyrecently published in Alcoholism: clinical and experimental research, traits such as perfectionism and self-criticism – leading to social disconnection – may contribute to an increased risk of developing severe alcohol use disorder (SAUD).

In the study, Belgian researchers recruited 65 adults with SAUD in hospital treatment and 65 adults without the condition.

Each participant completed Hewitt’s Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale to assess three forms of perfectionism. These include:

  • Self-focused perfectionism: exaggerated performance standards imposed on oneself.
  • Socially Prescribed Perfectionism: a perception of high expectations from other people.
  • Other-oriented perfectionism: setting unrealistic standards for others.

In addition to perfectionist tendencies, the researchers assessed symptoms of depression and anxiety in each participant. Specifically, they looked at trait anxiety, which is anxiety related to a person’s overall experience, and state anxiety, a type of anxiety resulting from a specific situation.

After processing the data, the scientists found that study participants with SAUD reported higher anxiety and symptoms of depression than the control group.

According to a press release, when researchers took into account symptoms of anxiety and depression, they found that study participants with SAUD exhibited more self-oriented and socially prescribed perfectionist traits than the a group of witnesses. Specifically, they found unrealistic personal standards and heightened sensitivity to the expectations of others.

However, there were no differences in other-oriented perfectionism between the two groups.

Additionally, data from the study suggests that self-focused perfectionism in people with SAUD may be more prevalent in men and more educated people. In contrast, the researchers found that self-focused perfectionism was not associated with heavy drinking among moderate drinkers in the control group.

The researchers noted that these findings are consistent with other known self-related and interpersonal risk factors for SAUD. These include:

  • low self-esteem
  • blame oneself
  • social cognition disorders
  • discrepancies between an individual’s view of their real self and their ideal self

They concluded that SAUD appears to be directly associated with high perfectionism beyond the influence of other co-occurring psychological conditions. They added that future research should examine the different types and degrees of perfectionism and the roles they may play in the development and treatment of SAUD.

Johnathan M. Sumpter, MBA, MA, LPC-S, director of the University of Dallas Counseling Center (UDCC) and founder and CEO of The Mental Well, supports the theory that perfectionism can lead to the abuse of alcohol in some people.

“People abuse alcohol to de-stress [or] relaxing, numbing anxious or depressive feelings, trying to escape from problems, being uninhibited or feeling more free to do things, to fit in socially or have more fun, or may have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism,” Sumpter told Healthline.

“Perfectionism usually causes stress and negative thoughts [or] emotions. As such, many perfectionist individuals fall back on alcohol to deal with these feelings.

Sumpter added that how people with perfectionist traits perceive perfectionism can also limit their ability to seek help for their alcohol use. He said they might feel like they “should” be able to deal with their emotions and drinking “perfectly” on their own.

According to Dr. Lawrence Weinstein, chief medical officer of the American Addiction Centers, a dimension of perfectionism may be more likely to increase the risk of AUD.

Dr. Weinstein explained that “perfectionism has two key dimensions – perfectionist striving, which may include the pursuit of one’s high personal standards – and perfectionist concerns, which would include self-critical behavior resulting from failure to meet one’s own standards. personal high”.

He noted that several studies have established positive associations between self-critical perfectionism and alcohol-related problems.

“Perfectionists who are intensely and negatively self-critical often drink to cope with negative emotions and self-perceptions of not achieving the personal standards they have set for themselves or to cover up behaviors they deem to be imperfect,” said said Weinstein.

Weinstein told Healthline that certain personality traits other than perfectionism might predict an increased risk of AUD.

“Neuroticism, which may present as strong impulsiveness, anxiety, [or] emotional instability, has a strong association with alcohol consumption and alcohol abuse,” he said. “Additionally, low levels of consciousness, which may present as disinhibition, have also been associated with alcohol dependence.”

Weinstein added that personality traits like extroversion and agreeableness — which can present as high excitement-seeking and low confidence — have also been predictors of high alcohol consumption.

According to Sumpter, shame is also a driving force behind substance use disorders.

“Shame is part of the cycle of addiction — internal frustration, fantasizing, obsessing, acting out, loss of control, shame and guilt, quitting use, and passing time,” Sumpter said. “The inner critic can disrupt useful thoughts and push us deeper into each point of the cycle.”

Research shows a link between perfectionist personality traits and serious alcohol use disorders.

A person’s propensity for negative thinking and self-criticism may lead to excessive drinking to cope, but other personality traits, such as neuroticism, extroversion, agreeableness, and Shame may also play a role in heavy drinking.

According to the Belgian researchers, future studies could investigate the causal links between perfectionism and other risk factors for AUD, including impulsivity and self-blame, to better understand how certain personality traits can lead to binge drinking behaviors.

If you or someone you know is drinking too much and needs help, help is available to get you the treatment you need.

About Margie Peters

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