Learn / The Connection Between Narcissism And Addiction
Narcissism can lead to addiction as a way to self-regulate and cope with shame or others’ apparent lack of admiration. Having a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) doesn’t mean you’ll automatically become addicted to something. But it can make it more likely.
If substance use has started affecting your life, you and your care team might decide on a rehab for narcissism and addiction.
The DSM-51 defines narcissistic personality disorder as a “pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy.” If someone with NPD doesn’t feel admired, they might turn to substances to cope with that pain. Here’s how narcissistic traits2 might look in someone with narcissistic personality disorder.
The behaviors of your friend, coworker, loved one, or partner with narcissism may seem strangely out of place or inappropriate. They might lie for no reason other than to gain perceived admiration. They may also belittle, manipulate, or abuse others to maintain their sense of entitlement and control.
The 3 subtypes of narcissism are:
Someone with any type of narcissism will need the admiration of others. If they don’t feel admired, they might turn to substances to cope with that pain. They may also use substances to regulate the intense emotions of NPD.
Narcissism can strain or break relationships. Someone with narcissism will likely struggle to emphasize with others and reciprocate in relationships, which can damage the relationship. Some relationships, romantic or otherwise, eventually end for these reasons.
But it’s not always easy to recognize narcissism in your friend, romantic partner, or coworker. People with NPD often radiate charisma and confidence at first. This can make them an attractive friend, partner, or boss. But that thin veil often lifts quickly.
In some situations, someone with NPD may emotionally, physically, or sexually abuse others in their life. This heavily impacts their ability to both make and keep healthy relationships.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction5 as “a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by continued use despite negative consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain.” Someone with an addiction may use a substance, like drugs or alcohol, or have a behavior addiction like gambling, shopping, and sex.
Addiction can happen to anyone, but some risk factors can make it more likely. These include trauma, chronic pain, genetic susceptibility (parents or other relatives with addiction), and brain injuries, among others.
Co-occurring narcissism and addiction presents a unique, but manageable, challenge. If you have both, you might be more aggressive and violent2. And since NPD instills a strong sense of superiority, you might not feel like anything could be wrong. The idea might even feel enraging. But addiction isn’t something you’re doing “wrong.” It’s just something you need help managing.
Both narcissism and addiction have compulsivity2 in common. Someone with narcissism will also repeat their actions despite negative consequences, like losing friends. Addiction, as defined, has that same aspect.
Research suggests general functional impairment, not narcissism itself, can cause addiction4. But the effects of narcissism can cause a higher likelihood to drink, or use drugs, or gamble. And the more likely you are to use substances, the more likely addiction becomes.
For example, you may drink or use drugs to lift your self-esteem, which you need to keep high due to your NPD. Doing so often enough can lead to addiction. Alcohol and drugs can also enhance your perception of boring people—people who don’t offer adequate admiration or who aren’t on your level of specialness. Altered mental states can mask shame too, whether it’s shame from not being admired or guilt for needing admiration.
Social media addiction, gambling, excessive spending, and excessive working have similar effects as substance use. That’s because they provide admiration4 (through posting on social media or getting a big win), lift unstable self-esteem, and can cover the shame of not feeling admired.
Addiction can cause someone to lie, steal, and become untrustworthy. It can strain relationships even without these issues present—watching a loved one suffer never feels okay. And trying to force someone to get help may feel like a losing battle. It’s frustrating for both sides.
The effects of addiction could also cause you to lose your job, home, and finances. The prices of drugs and alcohol might mean your finances take a hit first, which could also cause strain in your home life, especially if you’re your family’s primary earner. As your addiction worsens, your job performance may as well, resulting in job loss.
Addiction and narcissism don’t have all the same symptoms and causes, but they do connect in some ways.
Addiction can fill a narcissistic need for high self-esteem and self-worth. Drinking, using drugs, and shopping, for example, all release dopamine, which makes you feel good and reinforces repetition6. A narcissist’s need to feel good about themselves may drive their addictive behaviors. Or, they may use substances to even-out their emotional states.
Some drugs, and alcohol especially, depress your central nervous system. This may feel nice if you feel out of control or like your emotions (good and bad) are too intense.
In either case, you may use substances to cope with the negative effects of narcissism. Even for someone without narcissism, addiction presents a tempting “solution” to low self-esteem and self-confidence. So if you have a highly unstable sense of self-esteem, substance use can feel like an easy way to manage your confidence level.
Certain social factors contribute to addiction and narcissism. Growing up with inadequate or excessive praise can lead to narcissism2 in adults. Traits like aggression, poor tolerance of distress, and emotional dysregulation can also lead to narcissism. Childhood trauma or inherited genetics can cause these traits.
Growing up with addicted parents can make you more likely to have an addiction7, through both genetics and mimicry. Similarly, having a narcissistic parent can make you more likely to have NPD8. That’s because a narcissistic parent may overvalue their child, who then assumes they’re more important than everyone else, and that everyone thinks that too.
But despite the interpersonal and personal symptoms of each condition, you do have resources for recovery.
Treatment for narcissism and addiction must address both conditions at the same time. While narcissism has no standard treatment pathway8, certain modalities, like ongoing therapy and a positive therapist-patient relationship, play a positive role.
Psychoanalytic therapy for narcissism8 focuses on the emotions you express towards your therapist—AKA, someone who’s trying to change or better you. Being in treatment may make you feel inferior and want to lash out. So, this therapy focuses on bringing those emotions to the surface and examining them empathetically.
Schema therapy addresses the unhelpful emotions of narcissism9. It’s an adaptation of cognitive behavioral therapy, which addresses the thoughts that lead to harmful behaviors like addiction. Schema therapy can help you regulate your self-esteem and self-worth without needing others to make you feel whole.
In treatment for addiction and narcissism, providers address addiction, narcissism, and the underlying causes of each. You might start with detox, which safely removes substances from your body. Next, therapy helps you identify and address the causing factors of addiction and begin treating narcissism. After rehab, you’ll likely stay in outpatient therapy, which providers highly recommend to manage both narcissism and addiction.
But first, you need to take the first step towards recovery. Do so by browsing our list of rehabs that treat addiction and narcissism to see pricing, photos, reviews and more.
American Psychiatric Association (Ed.). (2022). Desk reference to the diagnostic criteria from DSM-5-TR. American Psychiatric Association Publishing.Mitra, P., & Fluyau, D. (2023). Narcissistic personality disorder. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing.
Mitra, P., & Fluyau, D. (2023). Narcissistic personality disorder. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556001/
Lander, L., Howsare, J., & Byrne, M. (2013). The impact of substance use disorders on families and children: From theory to practice. Social Work in Public Health, 28(0), 194–205. https://doi.org/10.1080/19371918.2013.759005
Jabeen, F., Gerritsen, C., & Treur, J. (2021). Healing the next generation: An adaptive agent model for the effects of parental narcissism. Brain Informatics, 8(1), 4. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40708-020-00115-z
Zajenkowski, M., Maciantowicz, O., Szymaniak, K., & Urban, P. (2018). Vulnerable and grandiose narcissism are differentially associated with ability and trait emotional intelligence. Frontiers in Psychology, 9. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01606
Abuse, N. I. on D. (--). Drugs and the brain. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drugs-brain
Jauk, E., & Dieterich, R. (2019). Addiction and the dark triad of personality. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00662
Substance Use Disorder defined by NIDA and SAMHSA. (April 20). State of Wyoming Legislature. https://wyoleg.gov/InterimCommittee/2020/10-20201105Handoutfor6JtMHSACraig11.4.20.pdf
Dieckmann, E., & Behary, W. (2015). [schema therapy: An approach for treating narcissistic personality disorder]. Fortschritte Der Neurologie-Psychiatrie, 83(8), 463–477; quiz 478. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0035-1553484
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