The Addict or Alcoholic Narcissist and Codependent, Toxic Relationships

Written by Angela Atkinson

“Addiction isn’t about substance – you aren’t addicted to the substance, you are addicted to the alteration of mood that the substance brings.” ~Susan Cheever

If you’re dealing with a narcissist who is also an addict, you’re likely under more pressure than most people – and there are plenty of good reasons for it. I’m going to give you a quick overview of what you can do to deal with a narcissist addict.

Dealing with an addict in the family

If you’ve ever dealt with an addict, you know it can be painful and difficult for all involved. I’ve put together this Q&A that offers a glimpse into what the families of addicts deal with, as well as some vital answers that you’ll need to know if you’re dealing with one now.

Addict or Alcoholic Narcissist? Symptoms to Look For

Alcoholism Symptoms

  • Feeling powerless to control one’s level of alcohol use
  • Declining to engage in social activities or hobbies that used to be of interest
  • Wanting to stop or decrease drinking but being unable to do so
  • Using alcohol in high-risk situations, such as while swimming or driving
  • Devoting significant time and resources to drinking
  • Developing a tolerance for alcohol (i.e., needing more alcohol over time to match the feelings from earlier use)
  • Experiencing cravings for alcohol when not drinking
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking (e.g., cravings, sweating, shaking, and nausea)
  • Facing problems at work, home, or school because of alcohol use
  • Having to drink to feel better
  • Continuing to use alcohol even when it is leading to social, physical, relationship, and personal problems

Narcissistic Personality Disorder Traits

1. A grandiose sense of self-importance

2. A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

3. A belief that he or she is “special” and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

4. A requirement for excessive admiration

5. A sense of entitlement – unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

6. Interpersonal exploitativeness – taking advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

7. A lack of empathy and an unwillingness to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

8. Enviousness of others – along with the belief that others are envious of him or her

9. A tendency to arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

Source: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV

Start by Giving Yourself a Break

You are likely feeling a compendium of emotions right about now, teetering between wanting to love your addict better and wanting to run as far and fast away as possible. Feelings of love, hate, sorrow and even elation can cycle through you faster than the bad tuna you ate last week.

So let’s start here: there are only a few things you can really do to help an addict – and if the addict is also a toxic narcissist, the list is even shorter. But what you can do is educate yourself and make informed decisions.

Why Narcissists Might Become Alcoholics or Addicts

Since many narcissists seem to believe that they are special, and often times that they are above the law or that rules don’t apply to them, they often derive pleasure from engaging in reckless antisocial behavior, not to mention exploiting other people at times.

Often, they think they have the right to bully people, humiliate them and force them into taking responsibility for or covering for the narcissist’s bad behavior or choices.

Some narcissists are known for their risky activities such as drug and alcohol consumption in excess – and these types of things often fuel those narcissistic behaviors. Often, narcissists are in codependent relationships anyway, but when you add drug or alcohol addiction to the mix, the toxicity level is off the chart.

A lot of addicted narcissists will claim that their drug of choice enhances their lives or personalities, and they’ll swear that they have control over their addiction. And, since they’re narcissists and they believe they’re immune to such normal human issues as addiction or alcoholism, they aren’t concerned with any related health issues.

Plus, the addicted narcissist will almost always be in some kind of codependent relationship that is abusive or manipulative.

Addiction and Narcissistic Behavior

It’s a toxic combination, but according to researchers, as many as half of all people who suffer from narcissistic personality disorder also abuse alcohol and/or drugs – and many of them are doing it under the radar of the majority of the people in their lives. This puts their psychiatrists or other medical professionals in a tough spot – treating addiction along with something as difficult as narcissistic personality disorder can be tricky – and leaves professionals wondering which disease caused the other. (Was it narcissism that led to the addiction or the addiction that led to the narcissism?)

From what I’ve learned, often, one condition feeds the other – so you’re left with a “chicken or egg” kind of situation.

And as chronic drug use has been proven to make the symptoms of NPD and BPD more prominent and severe, the narcissist finds himself or herself looking for more drugs to self medicate.

They develop a tolerance for their drug of choice and they develop a dependence on it – and that leads to their addiction becoming fully established.

Since a lot of narcissists think they’re “above it all” – including the law and basic human ethics – it’ll be tough to actually help one get treatment. That’s because most narcissists won’t ever admit they actually need help. They make it almost impossible to help them, in fact.

This is even true when the addiction has completely taken over their lives – and their hostile attitude toward treatment may also become strangely competitive and aggressive.

Then, of course, as the narcissists they are, they will devalue and discard the value of both the treatment and the professionals who are trying to help them – in part, due to their natural urge to resist authority figures (outside of themselves, of course).

An interesting fact about narcissism and addiction…

Remember that in both narcissism and in addiction, there’s a common factor: shame. A lot of narcissists and alcoholics/addicts have had some kind of trauma between 18 months and 3 years old which could have caused or facilitated the condition, according to Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Development, stage 2. While it’s not always the truth in every case, it can be a good place to start trying to figure out the cause.

This video offers insight into the psychology of narcissism and addiction.

Are you an enabler? If you feel that you’re a victim of a narcissist who is also an alcoholic or addict, how do you know if you’re enabling it?

If you’re trying to help the narcissist hide the addiction, or if you’re helping him or her to procure the drugs/alcohol s/he needs to feed the addiction (even if it’s only to shut him/her up).

Often there are two or more enablers – one who helps the narcissist feel good about himself/herself, and another who encourages the addiction (knowingly or otherwise).

And for narcissistic addicts, their primary sources of narcissistic supply are often blind to the symptoms at first, or if they do see them, they’re told over and over again that they’re just wrong, or at the very least exaggerating the issue. Often, the well-meaning supply finds himself/herself believing that maybe they WERE wrong, after all. But in reality, the narc has just pulled yet another gaslighting job on them.

If you hope to get your narc into recovery, you have to first get him to admit there’s a problem and that he’s got an addiction he can’t control – and if you know narcissists, you know they might never get there.

But it’s an absolutely necessary step in any recovery process, so without it, there’s no hope. And if you get the narc to rehab, you’d better have a lot of money – or at least some darn good insurance – because most will require the highest-end facility within a reasonable travel distance (or unreasonable). They may abuse staff and cause trouble for other patients, and they may make group therapy impossible (or, at the very least, all about them).

How You Can Help the Addicted Narcissist in Your Life

Researchers say that since most narcissists need to see instant results (and expect others to agree that they’re fully recovered in an impossibly short amount of time), they rarely manage to actually do the steps necessary to recover – and doctors say this makes their prognosis for recovery very poor.

So, while you can’t necessarily always help a narcissist addict directly, you can recognize that his or her illusions of grandeur shouldn’t become your problem or your family’s problem – instead, you have to learn to avoid strengthening the narcissist’s false self-image and focus on the fact that, statistically speaking, a narc’s prognosis for recovery is not great.

These are some ways you can help the addict in your family, according to AddictionandRecovery.com:

  • Educate yourself on addiction and recovery.
  • Try not to accuse or judge. Avoid name-calling. This is a difficult time for both of you.
  • Provide a sober environment that reduces triggers for using.
  • Allow the addict time to go to meetings.
  • Understand that your lives will change. Do not wish for your old life back. Your old life to some extent is what got you here. You both need to create a new life where it is easier to not use alcohol or drugs.
  • Make sure that you both have time for fun. People use alcohol and drugs to relax, escape, and as a reward. The addict needs to find alternative ways to relax, escape, and as a reward otherwise, they will turn back to their addiction.
  • Do not enable. Do not provide excuses or cover up for the addict.
  • Do not shield the addict from the consequences of their addiction. People are more likely to change if they have suffered enough negative consequences.
  • Set boundaries that you all agree on. The goal of boundaries is to improve the health of the family as a whole. Do not use boundaries to punish or shame.
  • If you want to provide financial support, buy the goods and services the addict needs instead of giving them money that they might use to buy alcohol or drugs.
  • Recognize and acknowledge the potential the addict has within them.
  • Behave exactly as you would if your loved one had a serious illness. What would you do if they were diagnosed with heart disease or cancer?

Do you need help dealing with an addict in the family? Here is a list of resources to get you started on your path to family recovery.

  • Al-Anon.org (al-anon.org) For family members of alcoholics.
  • Nar-anon (nar-anon.org) For family members of addicts.
  • Gam-anon (gam-anon.org) For family members of gamblers.
  • Coda.org (coda.org) For co-dependent individuals.
  • Adultchildren.org (adultchildren.org) For adult children of alcoholics and addicts.

Now it’s your turn – I want to know your thoughts.

Are you dealing with an addicted narcissist in the family, or have you in the past? What would you say your biggest struggles are or were? 

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