While alcoholism is an addiction and extreme narcissism is a personality disorder, narcissists and alcoholics tend to share 11 similarities. Knowing these can help you cope with people in your life who have narcissism or alcoholism.
Narcissism is characterized by iron-clad denial. From a narcissist’s point of view, he or she has no problems and can do no wrong. Bragging and a damn-the-consequences-swagger are essential parts of many narcissists’ personae.
Similarly, denial keeps addiction in place. Denial manifests for alcoholics in many ways, such as saying they can stop drinking anytime they want, lying about when they drank, or refusing to acknowledge that their drinking has costs.
That’s why participants in 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous introduce themselves with their name and say “I’m an alcoholic.” It’s a step in breaking denial.
Narcissists don’t enter a room saying “Hi, I’m Jack, I’m a narcissist.” However, their dramatic, manipulative or entitled behaviors often announce their narcissism beyond a doubt.
2) Lack of introspection
Few narcissists are interested in self-reflection. Doing so would risk encountering the deep shame and emptiness they carry.
Similarly, addiction can cover inner conflicts and uncomfortable feelings. As long as an addict uses, those feelings go unaddressed. The longer the feelings are unaddressed, the more daunting it can become to look inward and face them.
3) Refusal to take responsibility
Narcissists are quick to blame others for making them act as they do. Alcoholics have plenty of excuses for why they drink.
Narcissists almost never apologize or promise to change their ways. That would feel like weakness, which is anathema to narcissists, sullying the image they desperately seek to cultivate.
While some alcoholics apologize for their behavior and promise to turn over a new leaf, if they only talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, their repeated apologies and broken promises eventually carry little weight with those around them.
Narcissists are defined by entitlement. Lacking empathy and feeling superior, they give themselves full permission to do whatever the want despite the rules or costs to others.
Alcoholics’ sacred entitlement is drinking. They may lose everything and everyone in their lives before they will give up alcohol.
Narcissists are trapped in a non-stop holding action devoted to preserving their image and preventing anything from making them feel unworthy.
6) Behavior is at others’ expense
Those close to both narcissists and alcoholics experience deprivation, abandonment, shame, rejection and feeling used. Loved ones of both alcoholics and narcissists may withdraw emotionally or eventually leave the relationship.
7) Behavior can switch rapidly
Narcissists can go from charming to threatening in a heartbeat. Feeling slighted or a lack of adoration can send a narcissist into full battle mode.
Similarly, an alcoholic’s behavior and personality can change drastically, especially when under the influence. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, leading to outrageous, dangerous or abusive behavior.
8) Superficial relationships
Trying to have a reciprocal, honest conversation with a narcissist is a hit-or-miss proposition. Similarly, trying to make a meaningful connection with someone who is drunk is a fool’s errand.
A narcissist’s dysfunction and an alcoholic’s addiction make it difficult for them to sustain deep, meaningful relationships in any consistent or lasting way.
9) Manipulation of others
Both narcissists and alcoholics will use anybody they can to get their fix.
For a narcissist, the fix is attention or gratification. Narcissists view others in terms of what they can do for the narcissist.
For an alcoholic, the fix is a drink. Others are viewed as either enabling their drinking or as potential threats to their freedom to drink. Alcoholics seek enablers to cover for their drinking.
For both narcissists and alcoholics, it’s all about me. Their needs are primary. While both may function relatively normally in many settings (particularly if not drunk or triggered by the loss of narcissistic supply), their self-focus inevitably re-emerges.
Avoiding shame drives much of narcissists’ behavior. They often cope by dishing out shame to others.
Alcoholics carry immense shame. Their drinking numbs or masks their shame.
Some individuals have both narcissistic personality disorder and an active addiction. If someone in your life has such a dual diagnosis, you may find coping with them much more difficult than if that person had just narcissism or addiction.
The following actions can help you cope with someone who is an alcoholic, a narcissist, or both:
- Recognize that you don’t cause their narcissism or alcoholism
- Recognize that you can’t stop their narcissistic or alcoholic behaviors
- Don’t make excuses for their behavior
- Be clear on what you will and will not accept from them
Couple drawing by Lorelyn Medina
Bottle and chain by Iconic Bestiary
Self admirer by Pathdoc