Studies show that addiction to drugs, habits or settings is a common problem for those with a narcissistic diagnosis, and that despite their diminishing sense of value, those with narcissism often seek solace in these vices. More research on narcissism and addiction shows that today’s modern youth often develop a feeling of entitlement and excessive self-importance, which helps explain the rising incidence of drug abuse problems among this age group in the United States.
Narcissism and addiction both lead to rash decisions and costly, self-destructive habits as a consequence of succumbing to inner cravings, a need to feel different, and the absolute achievement of avoiding unpleasant feelings. Nonetheless, it’s important to approach the concepts of narcissism and addiction as having many layers, many of which are intricately intertwined. More so, it’s important to develop a deep understanding of these connections to ensure successful treatment.
Table of Contents
- Understanding Narcissism
- The Link Between Narcissism and Substance Abuse
- The Cycle of Addiction in the Narcissistic Individual
- Co-occurring Disorders: The Double Challenge
- Treatment Approaches for Co-occurring Narcissism and Addiction
- The Role of Family and Loved Ones
- Potential Barriers to Treatment
- Recovery and Beyond
The Mayo Clinic defines narcissism as a mental health issue that causes people to have an excessive feeling of their own significance. They also have an immense need to be the center of attention, no matter how many people they are around, and a deep-seated need for admiration.
Narcissists often exhibit a variety of traits, including:
- Frequently criticize and despise those they consider to be unimportant.
- An inordinate need for frequent praise and an unjustifiably high feeling of self-importance.
- A tendency to act haughtily and boast often.
- An expectation to receive recognition even in the absence of accomplishments.
- Tend to make their accomplishments and skills seem greater than they are.
- A belief that they are better than everybody else and can only interact with or understand those who are similarly exceptional.
- An odd anticipation for undeserved perks and unquestioning compliance from others.
- Frequently use others to achieve one’s goals.
- An internal need to provide illusions of wealth, dominance, genius, beauty or the ideal partner.
- Unable or unwilling to understand the wants and emotions of others.
- A belief that they deserve special treatment and benefits.
- A false belief that others are extremely jealous of their lifestyle.
- Often present themselves in a way that appears very egotistical.
- Insist on owning the finest of everything, such as the nicest workplace or automobile.
Psychology Today says people with good self-esteem feel valuable and capable and seek meaningful relationships. They embrace themselves regardless of others’ opinions. Narcissists, on the other hand, overvalue themselves, tend to lack empathy for others, and act aggressively, coldly, and coercively.
The Link Between Narcissism and Substance Abuse
In a 2020 study, researchers found that vulnerable narcissists were more likely to develop an addiction to social media. Although this study doesn’t directly mention drugs, it doesn’t demonstrate how people with narcissism have higher rates of addiction.
People with narcissism are more likely to develop a drug addiction because of their psychological vulnerabilities, such as:
- false sense of invincibility
- extreme need for admiration
- lack of empathy
- overwhelming need to feel important
- erroneous sense of superiority and entitlement
Narcissists seek external approval because they have no sense of their own worth or usefulness to the world. The narcissist avoids feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness by constantly seeking approval from others. Sophia Bell on Medium who writes for SophiaExplainsNarcs.com says that without this external validation, the narcissist’s self-esteem further plummets because they become forbed to face their own shame, which can lead to narcissistic collapse. This is why so many narcissists develop pathological narcissism: to avoid a narcissistic collapse.
The Cycle of Addiction in the Narcissistic Individual
One reason that narcissists so commonly abuse drugs and alcohol is because the substances amplify their feelings of grandiosity and invulnerability. More so, narcissists often get stuck in the cycle of drug abuse because drugs readily cause the brain to deny there is a problem.
It is plausible, according to Goldstein’s research at Brookhaven, that desire, compulsion and the recurrent relapsing character of addiction [in narcissists and drug addicts alike] are majorly the result of impaired perspective and denial. Data from another study even shows that grandiose narcissists are prone to engaging in dangerous activities such as substance misuse, refusal to acknowledge they have a problem, and hostile reactions to criticism.
The characteristics of narcissists make them predisposed to a higher risk of abusing substances as a means of numbing their feelings of worthlessness and shame. Learn more about the connections between disinhibition (associated with psychopathy) and hostility (associated with narcissism and psychopathy) in this meta-analytic research article.
Co-occurring Disorders: The Double Challenge
Narcissistic clients, many of whom have other personality disorders as well, often have trouble connecting with therapists when receiving treatment for addiction. Narcissistic traits and symptoms from co-occurring disorders like anxiety or depression result in a reduced capacity for hearing, processing and benefiting from constructive criticism. Additionally, they tend to exhibit problems when trying to express themselves and work through their feelings and emotions.
Experts agree that the therapeutic community approach and group therapy are superior to individual work in this context. Some of the most common issues that narcissists encounter when receiving treatment for co-occurring disorders are:
- heightened sensitivity
- propensity toward seduction
- high degree of manipulation and flamboyance
- reluctance to respond to insight-based counseling
- weak sense of self-worth
- inflated sense of self-importance
- zero acknowledgment that there is a problem
Treatment Approaches for Co-occurring Narcissism and Addiction
According to data from the Appalachian State University, about 35% of people with anxiety disorders and 53% of people with depression also have a personality disorder, with three to four percent, respectively, receiving a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder.
Due to the interplay between the illnesses, integrated treatment approaches are the most effective for those with co-occurring conditions when treating addiction. The untreated condition will deteriorate without this treatment, undermining the efficacy of the treatment as a whole.
One of the most prevalent triggers of pathological narcissism is trauma, particularly psychological trauma. This is why behavioral therapies are essential to the treatment process and breaking the cycle of narcissistic rage and addiction. Cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches people with narcissistic dysregulation to notice and modify their established habits, cognitive distortions, and maladaptive beliefs.
The Role of Family and Loved Ones
Family members and partners of individuals with co-occurring narcissism and addiction often face a number of challenges. In these families and relationships, there is a greater chance of:
- mental illness
- substance use
- difficult with emotional intimacy
- abusive behaviors
- unsafe home environments
Exposure to a narcissist is often emotionally taxing and leads to harsh judgment of oneself. To help your narcissistic family member receive the best treatment possible for his or her co-occurring disorders, use the following strategies:
- Define your limits.
- Avoid arguments.
- Don’t spend too much time with that individual.
- When you must be in the same room with the individual, take a friend along.
- If they attempt to challenge you or gaslight, don’t become angry or defensive.
- Create a safety net by building a support network.
Potential Barriers to Treatment
People in therapy for narcissism and addiction often reject treatment, find it difficult to form therapeutic relationships and have an increased need for specialized and experienced doctors. Narcissists have an innate bias toward showing weakness. Oftentimes, the only way therapy has a chance of helping these people is to make them fear rejection from those who care about them.
In the course of therapy, you can best aid a patient who struggles with both narcissism and addiction by:
- Talking openly and honestly about how you feel about them.
- Having compassion.
- Making them answer for their behavior.
- Showing acceptance of the person.
- Encouraging them to talk to a therapist.
- Staying away from confrontations.
Recovery and Beyond
Through comprehensive therapeutic interventions, individuals diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder and addiction can achieve effective recovery. The quantity of ongoing therapy sessions and the strength of one’s social networks have a significant impact on the efficacy and continuity of treatment.
Psychology Today covers several strategies for self-awareness and personal growth that those with narcissism and addiction can use to enhance treatment effectiveness, including:
- Learning to draw the line between themselves and other people.
- Using the “observer self” to maintain one’s integrity in the face of narcissistic urges.
- Increasing self-awareness to mend damaged friendships and romantic relationships.
Narcissistic addicts are often aggressive because their addiction fuels their extreme selfishness. The results of combining destructive arrogance with a lack of humility can result in catastrophic scenarios. Receiving comprehensive treatment from medical professionals with specialized training and experience in treating co-occurring disorders is essential to long-term recovery. Tailor-made therapy may lessen narcissistic episodes, which is crucial to achieving sobriety.