What Role Does Narcissism Play in Addiction?

You may be surprised to learn that most individuals who struggle with addiction often have narcissistic personality traits. These individuals may have a heightened view of themselves and focus on their own greatness before thinking about the needs of others. Narcissistic personality traits can be dangerous to have when it comes to addiction -- these individuals often believe they can handle the effects of drugs and alcohol better than their peers. When they feel this way, it can cause them to become caught up in the cycle of addiction quicker than they realize. Understanding the role that narcissism plays in addiction can help you or a loved one get the help needed before it’s too late. 

Understanding Narcissism

In today’s day and age of selfies and posting every detail of your personal life on social media, the word “narcissism” gets thrown around a lot. However, few people know what the psychological definition means. Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is less known amongst the general public due to common stigmas and stereotypes. These individuals are often misunderstood and brushed to the side. However, symptoms can interfere with daily life and interpersonal relationships. 

Symptoms

Those with NPD often struggle with an “excessive sense of self-importance.” They focus specifically on themselves, their wants, and their needs without regard for others. These traits can cause them to have a lack of empathy for others, which in turn can affect their interpersonal relationships. They can be overcome with idealized fantasies of success, beauty, power, or intelligence, with constant needs for attention and admiration. This self-interest is commonly obsessive, causing them to take advantage of others to achieve their goals. Criticism is not handled well, as individuals with NPD often respond with rage, shame, or humiliation. Their successes are typically over-exaggerated to make them feel better about themselves.  

Narcissism and Addiction

When narcissists do not get the praise and attention they seek, they often act out in extreme ways. When they do this, it can cause them to seek out drugs and alcohol in an attempt to deal with their emotional distress. However, this will often only provide temporary relief and cause them to continue using. When symptoms of addiction begin to set in, such as cravings, heightened tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, and negative impacts on the person’s life, the narcissist will often deny that they have a problem in the first place. They don’t want to believe that they could be putting themselves in harm’s way and instead try to show those around them that they can handle the substances; this is how they can become trapped in the cycle of addiction.

Are There Similarities Between NPD and Addiction?

It can be argued that those with NPD and those that struggle with addiction are both seeking something external to fill an internal void. The individual struggling with addiction seeks this from drugs and alcohol, while the person with NPD seeks it from other people’s praise and attention. In the same way that people with NPD manipulate situations to ensure they get the recognition they so desire, those with addictions will commonly do the same to ensure their supply is consistent and secure. Both individuals often struggle with symptoms of anxiety and depression if they do not receive what they are seeking out. 

Treatment Options

Individuals that have an addiction and another disorder present are struggling with a co-occurring disorder. Co-occurring disorders are not uncommon in the recovery space, as the two disorders often feed off each other while the person is actively struggling. The best treatment option is to address both disorders simultaneously. Doing this helps the individual heal from both simultaneously, giving them a better chance at maintaining sobriety for the long-term. Those that only address one disorder at a time are more likely to relapse after recovery due to unaddressed underlying causes. 

When looking for treatment programs, it is best to look for a facility with an inpatient dual diagnosis program. This type of program will ensure that the facility is well-versed in co-occurring disorders and employs the correct approaches to treating individuals with more than one disorder. The majority of these programs will use a variety of treatment modalities that are specifically tailored to the needs of the individual in recovery. Common treatment methods include:

  • Medical detox
  • Individual and group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Motivational interviewing (MI)
  • Somatic therapy
  • Experiential therapy
  • Holistic therapy
  • Mindfulness/meditation
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Relapse prevention


When discussing addiction, many people do not realize that narcissism can often play a significant role in the development of the disorder. The two can be connected because individuals with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) have similarities to those struggling with addiction. If the person with NPD begins using drugs and alcohol to fill the emptiness inside them, it can be quite easy for them to develop an addiction. For this reason, it is crucial to understand the ways in which NPD can affect addiction. This way, people can look out for symptoms to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. At NorthStar Transitions, we are no stranger to co-occurring disorders. We have an inpatient dual diagnosis program to address each of our patient’s personalized needs in recovery and tailor the program to set them up for success in recovery. Located in Boulder, Colorado, every aspect of our facility is to create a tranquil place for you to find healing. If you or someone you know is currently struggling, call us today at (303) 558-6400.


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