Narcissistic Personality and Addiction

Know someone who seems completely wrapped up in their own greatness and mystique? Then you might consider them to be narcissistic. It’s one thing if a person gets a little too proud of themselves from time to time. It’s another problem entirely if they have narcissistic personality disorder. They do anything and everything to protect their fragile sense of self, mostly by inflating it and creating an “admiration society” that they can depend on. When their emotional pain and anxiety get too overwhelming, people with narcissistic personalities often turn to drugs and alcohol for soothing escape.

How Narcissistic Personality Disorder Looks and Feels to Others

The narcissistic does a tricky dance between getting the admiration and from others and keeping people emotionally distant from them. If they feel threatened or someone gets too close, they crank up their narcissistic behavior. This is often offending or irritating enough that others are happy to put some distance between them. He or she blames others for their anger, which allows the narcissist to ignore reality and keep their elevated self-perception intact.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Drug Addiction

One study highlighted the course of narcissistic personality disordered client going through a course of outpatient cocaine treatment. The narcissists generally had unrealistically high demands of perfectionism for the therapist, other clients in the treatment, and anyone else associated with the drug treatment program. When these private standards of perfection weren’t met by the other people, the narcissists tended to quit outpatient cocaine treatment (probably casting blame on everyone as he or she walked out the door). A narcissist usually denies their drug use is addictive (even if it clearly looks like it). They describe their use as enhancing their energy and their life.

Narcissism and drug addiction have similarities in that the person relies on something from the outside to fill up their empty inside. The narcissist depends on the attention and admiration from others (whether this attention is imagined or real) for their sense of well-being. They do things to draw attention to them and create situations of achievement that set them up for congratulations and possible envy from others. This is done in much the same way that an addict makes sure their supply of drugs is steady and secure.

They have a lot of effort and time put into creating the situations and maintaining the appearances that keep their emptiness “filled up”. However, just like a drug addict, the admiration and attention does not fill the emptiness as well as it used to. When it seems they aren’t getting the admiration and attention they need, they become anxious and sink into depression. If they are using drugs, they may simultaneously be chasing the high of drugs when they can’t get the admiration they demand. The narcissist often has people around that will remind them of all their “greatness” when they get depressed. This storytelling and encouraging gradually “fills them up” again, bringing their mood back up. Once again, they are in the pursuit of ultimate admiration and notoriety.

Starting Drug Rehab

Getting a person with narcissistic personality disorder into treatment can be a real challenge, especially since they are not likely to admit problems resulting from their drug addiction. However, if you know someone with this disorder who really needs this help, find a way to extend your helping hand to them. They need you more than they want to know. If you need help setting up an intervention or need to get information about dual diagnosis drug rehab, contact The Canyon right away.

Wendy Lee Nentwig

By Wendy Lee Nentwig
Guest Contributor

One Response

  1. Mike August 7, 2008

    I’ve heard the phrase that alcoholics are “egomaniacs with an inferiority complex”. How do you think that figures into the case for those with narcissistic personality disorder? Do you think drug rehab is always necessary in that case?

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