Perfectionism and Substance Use
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If you’re not sure whether or not you struggle with perfectionism, check out this blog for more details!
Maintaining healthy expectations for yourself and your abilities may seem simple, but it’s an important part of day to day life and happiness. Both research and first-hand experience demonstrate a relationship between perfectionism and increased rates of anxiety and depression. I myself, and many like me, struggle with inflated standards for physical appearance and my professional performance. These thought patterns often get in the way of performing well because of how anxious they make me feel.
This link often leads perfectionists to lean on substances to either help them perform to their standards in some way or find relief from the stress.
“Performance Enhancing” Substances
These substances enable people to feel like they’re performing at their perfectionistic standards.
Adderall and School
Often used like a kind of studying steroids, Adderall is common among perfectionists and high achievers. It was relatively common at my school for people with legitimate Adderall prescriptions to get payed to deal out some of their pills to other students who wanted to use it to aid their performance.
Adderall, and other attention-based drugs like it are found in high quantities in schools, especially universities famous for rigorous academic standards.
Caffeine also helps people push themselves into unhealthy territory. It’s by far one of the most popular substances in the world, you only need to drive by a Starbucks around rush hour.
Pulling all-nighters for work with the help of coffee or energy drinks is a common tactic for meeting hard deadlines. Using too much caffeine, especially in strange times of day to get work done, can interrupt sleep and lead to dependence.
Substances as Coping Mechanisms
“Taking the edge off” is a common explanation of why people deal with anxiety through substance use. These substances are some of the most popular when it comes to coping with perfectionism.
The Usual Suspects
- Alcohol: Legal and cheap, alcohol is an easy and popular option. Often the heaviest partying days at my university were those after midterms and finals. And the stereotype of a worn out working adult drinking to destress is everywhere in media as a reflection of real life struggles.
- Marijuana: Given weed’s reputation for “chilling people out” and it’s increasing rates of legality, it’s a popular choice for people trying to avoid perfection anxiety.
- Nicotine: Decades of dedicated anti-smoking programs have driven nicotine use down but scratching that smoking itch helps people feel less anxious.
- Xanax: Anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications are being used recreationally to cope with stress.
- Mixing Drugs: Depending on the setting (alone/friends/party) people may use multiple of these drugs to decompress. Interactions between different substances can be unpredictable and dangerous.
Why Coping Hurts
Using substances to push away the feelings of anxiety surrounding your perfectionism is a temporary solution. While it may feel like you’re taking the weight off for a brief time, you may be adding on the weight of chemical dependence.
I saw people in college who drank to relax after classes, which gradually became a nightly habit. It wasn’t until they made it through school and into the working world that they realized how their reliance on alcohol was dragging them down. A serious drinking dependency may eventually require alcohol treatment in order to safely achieve sobriety.
Addressing Your Perfectionism
Everyone is different, which means that the answers for you rely on your needs and your experience.
- Friends and Family: Developing a safety net with those close to you is invaluable. Feeling comfortable talking about these issues helps get yourself out of your own head and combats the feeling of being alone in dealing with your perfectionism.
- Professional Help: Perfectionism can be part of the way people frame their whole lives, and they may not even realize it. A trained therapist can identify and help solve the root of this way of thinking.
- Introspection: If you struggle with perfectionism, it can be helpful to explore it, either on your own or by using a guided workbook. Understanding not only what your high standards are, but why that’s the case may help lead you away from bad habits.
Changing these deep-seeded thought patterns is hard, but worth it. You are not alone in this struggle and it’s possible to live without expecting perfection.
Want to read more? Here are a few of my related blog posts you may be interested in checking out!
– “How Your Negative Thoughts Can Hurt You”
– “Mental Health in Underrepresented Communities”