Not all narcissists are alcoholics, of course, and not all alcoholics are diagnosable narcissists. So why is it that these two groups behave in such similar ways?
Though narcissism is considered a personality disorder and alcoholism is considered a substance abuse disorder—often called addiction—the two conditions share some remarkably comparable characteristics.
The alcoholic often displays the kind of self-centered behavior that is one of the defining traits of the narcissist, for example. The two also share some of the same kinds of unpredictable emotional responses.
Addiction drives people to fulfill their primary need (in this case, the substance of alcohol) without thought to others. An alcoholic’s actions appear strikingly familiar to anyone who has dealt with a narcissist.
If you are dealing with someone suffering from untreated alcoholism, or managing a narcissistic partner or friend, read on to find out how these two conditions share common problems.
Drinking Habits and Thinking Patterns
When someone becomes mired in the morass that is addiction, they will often become quite selfish and erratic in their behavior—much like the narcissist deeply involved in their condition.
Both conditions display a disordered pattern of thinking, as well as a conflicted set of priorities. Both types are likely to exhibit codependency and to take advantage of friends and family members.
1. Fixation on Drug of Choice
Both alcoholics and narcissists organize their entire lives around one source. For the alcoholic, obviously, it’s the substance of alcohol. For the narcissist, the source is their “narcissistic supply,” or the unwavering attention that they crave constantly, as you’ll notice when you learn about the typical characteristics of a narcissist.
This causes them to look at others as mere extensions of that driving need. On the one hand, any person in their lives that helps them to procure their drug of choice is a welcome enabler. On the other hand, any person who thwarts them in this pursuit is seem as an existential threat and is quickly cast out of their lives. Ultimately, this leaves both types isolated and obsessed.
2. Resourceful if Unprincipled
Both alcoholics and narcissists are supreme opportunities, taking advantage of anyone and any circumstance in order to procure their drug of choice. In the case of the alcoholic in the throes of their addiction, they will put their need for alcohol above the welfare of anyone else in their lives. Thus, friends and family are used, abused, and discarded as the addiction deepens.
In the case of the narcissist, their lack of empathy for others and feelings of superiority distort their understanding of their place in the world. They feel that they are above the rules and can act in any manner they wish, no matter how it impacts others.
3. Self-Absorbed and Consumed by Shame
Because the alcoholic and the narcissist are primarily seeking one thing (alcohol and attention, respectively), they can never take a genuine interest in the feelings or motivations of others—even of themselves. The narcissist feels entitled to whatever he can get, while the alcoholic wants only the liberty to drink.
These self-centered behaviors often mask a deep-seated shame. The narcissist’s desire to ridicule and humiliate others deflects their shame, while the alcoholic drinks to smother their all-consuming sense of shame. They are both often ashamed not only of their actions but of their innermost selves.
4. Skilled Liars
Both types develop excellent reflexes for lying and hiding (and deflecting, as detailed in #6). The narcissist lies via exaggeration and self-aggrandizing, stroking their own ego any chance they get. The alcoholic lies to perpetuate the cycle of denial that characterizes problem drinking.
The alcoholic will deny that their drinking is problematic and often hides how much they are drinking from others. Over time, this lying and hiding behavior becomes ingrained in their personality, much as the narcissist’s self-inflation becomes a defining characteristic.
5. Lack Ability for Self-Reflection
Narcissists, by definition, lack an ability for introspection, while alcoholics often drink in order to escape the pain that self-reflection might bring. If a narcissist has to look deep inside himself, he would have to acknowledge the emptiness and lack of self-esteem lurking underneath the bravado.
An alcoholic, in comparison, also avoids introspection because she will have to face all of the insecurities (and potential traumas) that have led her to problem drinking. Alcoholics generally lack a strong sense of self-worth, and the longer their drinking goes unchecked, the harder it is to face those underlying problems.
6. Deflection of Blame
One of the hallmarks of narcissism is to deflect blame, either by gaslighting others (calling them “crazy” for pointing out bad behavior) or by projecting their own negative actions onto others. Similarly, alcoholics cite numerous excuses for their drinking—family squabbles, work troubles, rejection, and so on—without ever really having a good reason.
If they are confronted by others regarding the impact of their negative actions, both the alcoholic and the narcissist will react with defensiveness and anger. Neither can cope with the underlying dysfunctions that lead to their disordered thinking and behavior.
7. Sowing Seeds of Destruction
Finally, both alcoholics and narcissists wreak havoc and spread devastation wherever they go. They betray friends, family, and loved ones for the sake of their drug of choice. They pay no heed to others’ feelings or needs and will use them to get what they want.
Ultimately, inevitably, both the narcissist and the alcoholic will sacrifice their reputations, their professional standing, their relationships, and their self-respect in the service of obtaining attention and alcohol. The alcoholic will also, in extreme cases, even sacrifice their lives.
These two disorders, alcoholism and narcissism, express themselves in many similar ways. They are both addicted to an external source to mask their lack of self-worth and to soothe their damaged souls. Their distorted view of themselves and others will produce a self-centered and emotionally inauthentic persona that masks their deep-seated insecurities.
To obtain their drug of choice, they will lie and cheat and take advantage of anyone around them, any opportunity that arises. The longer these conditions go untreated, the deeper into self-destruction they will delve.
If you have a narcissistic spouse who has done these things too often, and you’re considering letting them go, this article about divorcing a narcissistic husband can help.
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