Narcissism is a personality trait sometimes associated with overwhelming selfishness, and sometimes linked to a diagnosable personality disorder called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). While most mental health diagnoses are often linked with a risk of drug use (called co-occurring disorders), narcissism and alcoholism, in particular, may have a stronger than average link, whether as a personality trait or as a personality disorder.
What is Narcissism?
Narcissism is a condition or trait characterized by a debilitatingly self-centered attitude from the Greek myth of Narcissus. In the myth, a beautiful young man falls deeply in love with his own reflection in a pond.
Realizing the object of his affections is impossible to grasp, the young man either melts into a flower (the eponymous narcissus plant) or commits suicide, leaving behind a gorgeous white-and-gold bloom. In much the same way, narcissists can become their own worst enemies while violently and angrily lashing out against everyone around them.
There is a difference between narcissism and a selfish attitude or personality. People who are “looking out for number one” are not necessarily always narcissists, and episodes of narcissistic behavior are not always a clear indictment of a person’s full personality. A person may be considered a narcissist if they are consistently:
- Self-absorbed with no true care for other people.
- Feigning interest in others only to gain their trust.
- Consistently manipulative and mean upon losing interest.
- Difficulty maintaining any relationships whatsoever.
- Easily angered and irritable.
- Require great amounts of admiration to soothe their own innate insecurities.
- Powerful delusions of grandeur.
- Convinced they are superior or special to everyone else.
Vulnerable vs. Grandiose
Narcissists usually come in one of two distinct flavors. The vulnerable narcissist will have a personality built around immense insecurity and shockingly low self-esteem, despite their outward behavior and projections. The grandiose narcissist will be wholly and entirely convinced that they are God’s gift to mankind and offended or aggravated if anyone suggests otherwise.
Vulnerable narcissists may be avoidant and defensive, while grandiose narcissists must project strength, even in completely inappropriate settings, are easily upset, and overestimate themselves compared to others constantly (without acknowledging a peer’s superiority).
Focusing on Self, Never Others
From the outside looking in, a narcissist is someone who has no regard for others and focuses entirely on their own wellbeing out of an intrinsic belief that they are the only thing that matters. Narcissists may get involved with other people, can get married, and will even develop feelings like love and affection – but narcissists in relationships invariably resort to abusive behavior to maintain dominance.
To a narcissist, the narcissistic worldview is the only one that makes sense. After all, if everyone is solely looking out entirely for themselves, everything will be alright, no? Narcissists are actively incentivized by the way their mind works to ignore feelings of empathy or compassion, and don’t see the point in any form of cooperation for the cooperation’s sake – their ability to work with others is entirely limited to the justification that other people may be of some temporary use to them, with no consideration for what they might want or need out of that partnership.
The Continuous Affects of Narcissism
When a narcissist’s personality continuously and negatively affects their day-to-day life due to their stand-offish nature, irritable behavior, or need to dominate their peers, they may be diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder.
Research shows that narcissistic personality disorder is highly prevalent in society.
However, while narcissism does correlate with aggressive behavior and high self-esteem, it is more often a hindrance to success than a boon, unlike strictly sociopathic or psychopathic behavior. This is one of the potential reasons why NPD and narcissistic traits often seem to correlate with alcohol use, as well as other forms of drug use.
How Does Narcissism Affect Alcohol Use?
The ironic reality behind narcissistic behavior is that it only gets you so far. Narcissists frequently find themselves in confrontation with the consequences of their actions and behavior, especially family estrangement, loss of livelihood, and financial problems later in life.
As a narcissist struggles to adapt to the world around them due to changing times or cognitive decline, they have no choice but to fall back on the help and support of their loved ones, many of which will have distanced themselves over time due to years of abuse. In turn, narcissists are more likely to seek ways to cope with the pain they experience as a result of their actions.
If left untreated, a person with narcissistic personality traits may become deeply depressed. A substance use disorder like alcohol is one of the most common short-term solutions to these feelings without engaging a professional for treatment and counseling.
As a ubiquitous, easily accessible, and relatively cheap central nervous system depressant and addictive drug, alcohol provides a temporary escape from depressive thoughts through the steady release of dopamine and can help soothe anxious or unwanted thinking.
Depressive Thoughts and Narcissism
The negative consequences of consistent alcohol use are considerable, however. Depression or depressive thoughts from narcissistic behavior further incentivize a dangerous, self-destructive spiral through alcohol use, and the alcohol itself further hooks the user through its addictive properties. Long-term alcohol use eats away at a person’s cognitive abilities, from information retention to critical thinking and problem solving, and contributes heavily to multiple different physical health conditions, including chronic pain (neuralgia), heart disease, stroke, liver cirrhosis, and cancer.
People who develop narcissistic personality disorder are very unlikely to seek active treatment for themselves, which is part of the reason why self-medication is so prominent among narcissists.
Can Narcissism and Alcoholism Be Treated?
There are treatments for narcissism, but they are neither easy nor short. Treating a narcissist generally involves intensive talk therapy, requiring them to learn to understand the role NPD plays in their struggles in life and how their behavior affects others.
Alcoholism can make treatment more difficult, partially because any setback may lead to heavy drinking and partially because the effects of alcohol use can greatly exaggerate narcissistic thought and behavior, including grandiosity and self-absorbed thinking.
Effectively treating a patient with both narcissism and alcoholism requires a concurrent treatment plan that involves detox, psychological rehabilitation, one-on-one counseling, group therapy, and other treatment modalities that focus on relationship skills, healthier coping mechanisms, and self-awareness.