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Narcissism is a personality trait expressed as selfishness, an extreme sense of entitlement, attention seeking, and a lack of empathy.
Narcissism has two types, with each type having distinct characteristics:2
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition defined as persistent symptoms of narcissism that significantly impact a person’s quality of life.
The signs and symptoms of NPD and its severity vary. However, many people with NPD can:
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A narcissistic alcoholic is someone who either possesses narcissistic traits due to their alcoholism or is someone who has NPD and drinks alcohol because of their disorder.
Narcissistic personality disorder and alcoholism are co-occurring disorders. Co-occurring disorders are substance use disorders and mental disorders that exist at the same time.
Alcoholics are not always narcissists, and narcissists aren’t always alcoholics. However, alcoholism can cause some people to develop narcissistic traits.
When some people drink, they become arrogant, self-centered, and self-righteous. These traits can also describe someone with NPD.
Similarly, a narcissistic personality disorder can make a person vulnerable to alcoholism. People with NPD may use drinking as a coping mechanism to hide underlying shame.2, 4
Narcissists and alcoholics share common characteristics:7
Both alcoholics and narcissists suffer from severe cravings. Alcoholics crave alcohol, while narcissists crave attention and the feeling of superiority.
Narcissists believe relationships are all about them. They are extremely self-interested and often don’t think of other people’s feelings and emotions.
Alcoholics believe that drinking comes first, even at the expense of the needs of their loved ones. Their need to drink alcohol often negatively affects their relationships, as they put their drinking before others' feelings.
Narcissists rarely apologize for their mistakes and often blame others. To narcissists, admitting mistakes is a sign of weakness. They also blame others for making them act as they do, rather than taking responsibility.
Alcoholics will give many excuses for their alcohol consumption rather than take responsibility. Often, they will blame everyone but themselves for their extreme alcohol consumption.
Narcissists avoid shame as it is a sign of weakness. Instead, they shame other people for their wrongdoings to avoid their feelings.
Similarly, alcoholics avoid shame through drinking. Drinking alcohol numbs emotions, making it easier to avoid these negative feelings.
Narcissists feel they can do whatever they want at the expense of other people. That’s because narcissists constantly try to manipulate people to get what they want. Often, they want time, money, and power.10
Alcoholics are opportunistic and resourceful at getting their drinks, no matter the cost. People with AUD will use and manipulate others to get to alcohol.
Both narcissists and alcoholics will become defensive once people confront them about their actions.
They both may withdraw or be stern. They might also attack others who point out the things they want to deny or hide.
Narcissists will lie to promote their image and avoid criticism. They will also lie to get what they want, whatever that may be.11
Alcoholics will say they can stop drinking anytime they want. They will also deny when they had a drink or that their drinking has unhealthy consequences. Additionally, many alcoholics will lie about how many drinks they had or when they had their last drink.
Narcissists dislike self-reflection. Instead, they take on personality traits that may not be their own to make themselves look more powerful or interesting.
Similarly, alcoholics avoid reflecting on their insecurities and lack of self-esteem by drinking. They avoid their inner feelings and thoughts by drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.
Narcissists are arrogant and manipulative. They often show emotions designed to promote a positive image of themselves.
Alcoholics may cry over the costs of their addiction. But crying is meaningless because they still won’t stop drinking.
A narcissist exhibits destructive behavior due to a lack of empathy and authentic emotions. They often hurt people because they don’t have the ability or want to understand other people’s emotions.
Alcohol addiction affects an alcoholic’s behavior and the way they treat people, as well. People who spend time around alcoholics or narcissists will also feel the destructive effects of their actions.
They may experience arrogance, manipulation, rejection, and a lack of empathy. Destructive behavior makes it hard for narcissists and alcoholics to maintain relationships.
Pathological narcissism (both grandiose and vulnerable types) is also associated with alcoholism.
A study of college students showed that both grandiose and vulnerable narcissisms are positive predictors of alcohol misuse.5 In addition, the study found that:
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) describes a person’s chemical and psychological dependence on alcohol. It’s a progressive illness that gets worse over time.
A person is diagnosed to have an alcohol use disorder if they meet at least 2 of the 11 criteria of DSM-5:6
Depending on the number of met criteria, the severity of a person’s alcohol use disorder will be classified as:
Diagnosing and treating co-occurring disorders can be difficult. This is true with alcoholism and narcissistic personality disorder, which have overlapping symptoms.
For this reason, it’s crucial to treat co-occurring disorders simultaneously. Treating only one (alcoholism or narcissistic personality disorder) increases the chances of relapse.
There are many treatments for NPD and AUD. They include:
There appears to be no significant relationship between narcissistic personality disorder and substance use relapses.9
However, when people with alcoholism and narcissistic personality disorder start drinking again, they may hide or deny it. Or, they may feel they failed and blame others for their failure.
Therefore, simultaneous treatment of alcoholism and narcissistic personality disorder is essential. If only one condition is treated, the person’s chances of relapse will increase.
Seek treatment and support if you or someone you know has alcohol use and narcissistic personality disorders.
Living with or loving someone who exhibits traits of a narcissistic alcoholic can be taxing. It’s important to take care of yourself to be able to help or take care of other people.
There are support groups available to help. Al-Anon is a group for people who struggle with someone in their life with AUD. The meetings are free of charge and open to the public.
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