When it comes to alcohol addiction and narcissism, there are some uncanny similarities that can leave loved ones confused, frustrated, and emotionally drained.
But how can you tell if you’re dealing with a narcissist or an alcoholic? Is it true that a person is more likely to become an alcoholic if they’re also narcissistic?
Below, we’ll dive into just how strong the link between narcissism and alcoholism is, the similarities and differences of these disorders, and what to do if you or someone you love shares these traits.
Is There a Link Between Narcissism and Alcoholism?
If someone you know exhibits destructive, selfish behavior—and can’t be held accountable for it due to their drinking—it can be hard to decipher if you’re dealing with an alcoholic or a narcissist. After all, this behavior seems to fit the bill for both conditions.
However, there are important differences. The narcissist-like behavior of some alcoholics may only be a result of their addiction—it may not be how they really are when sober. And while there are some links between alcoholism and narcissism overall, the connection isn’t as straightforward1 as some might think.
Are Alcoholics Usually Narcissists?
Alcoholics are not always narcissists, but it does happen. Narcissistic personality disorder is just one of several personality disorders2 that can be dually diagnosed with alcoholism. However, there is some evidence that having narcissistic personality disorder can make you more vulnerable to alcohol abuse.
Narcissists May Be More Likely to Struggle with Alcohol Use Problems
While narcissism and alcoholism don’t always occur together, there are some reasons why narcissists might be more prone to developing an alcohol use disorder than the average person.
One study3 investigated alcohol and narcissism in college students. The researchers found that grandiose narcissism, i.e., overt narcissism, was a positive predictor of alcohol consumption. People in this group were also less likely to see their alcohol use as a problem.
In contrast, vulnerable narcissism, or covert narcissism, was a risk factor for future alcohol-related problems. Compared to grandiose narcissists, people in this group were more likely to acknowledge that they had a problem.
In a nutshell, grandiose narcissists may feel proud of their excessive alcohol use, and the problems it can cause, if it makes them stand out. They are more likely to insist that their behavior is fine. Meanwhile, vulnerable narcissists deal with inner shame that can make them more likely to develop alcohol abuse problems later on as a way to cope.
Similarities Between Alcoholism and Narcissism
There are several similarities in the behavior of those who struggle with alcohol use disorder and narcissism, including:
- Denial. This is a common defense for both narcissists and addicts. Denial is a coping mechanism that helps them avoid feeling shame at all costs.
- Refusal to self-reflect. Narcissists may do whatever it takes to avoid self-reflection. By the same token, it’s often very difficult for an addict to be reflective and honest about their behavior.
- Self-centeredness. Narcissists thrive off of attention and are highly focused on themselves. Likewise, an alcoholic might appear self-absorbed because they put their loved ones’ needs aside for the sake of drinking.
- Destructiveness. Narcissists create destruction in their own lives due to a lack of empathy in their relationships. Alcoholics can do damage because their addiction affects their behavior and the way they treat people.
- Dishonesty. Alcoholics will lie to cover their tracks, and narcissists will lie to avoid criticism.
What Makes Narcissism and Alcoholism Different?
Even though alcohol use disorder and narcissism appear similar in some ways, they are different conditions. Here are some key differences to recognize:
- Many alcoholics are empathic and kind, i.e. not narcissistic, when they’re sober. A narcissist’s behavior is consistent throughout their life, whether or not they’re using alcohol.
- Alcoholics may not admit mistakes because they do not remember what they’ve done. Narcissists may knowingly refuse to admit mistakes because they do not want to face criticism.
- People in an alcoholic’s life may notice their loved one’s behavior has changed. People in a narcissist’s life may feel the person’s core behavior is the same, no matter what.
- At some point, a person with alcoholism may realize they need to change. Narcissists are almost always unwilling to admit that they need to change, or that their actions have caused harm.
What to Do If Someone You Know Has Both Alcoholic & Narcissistic Traits
If someone you know has alcoholic narcissist symptoms, don’t neglect your own needs. Being close with an alcoholic narcissist can be emotionally draining, and it’s crucial to take care of yourself.
When you’re caught in the crossfire of someone with these symptoms, recognize that you aren’t responsible for their behavior—as much as they might try to pin it on you or someone else.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to set boundaries and find support in family and friends. Remember that a person with both alcoholic and narcissistic traits may need to get professional help before they can have a healthy relationship with you again. For a person to recover fully, they’ll generally need treatment that addresses both disorders.
In summary, whether alcohol is to blame or not, having a person with narcissistic traits in your life can be exhausting and upsetting. Whether or not this person decides to seek treatment, don’t overlook your well-being and your right to a healthy, happy life.
If someone you love needs treatment for alcohol use disorder, there are also new, online options that can make the process easier. In addition to expert medical support, Ria Health’s program includes virtual coaching sessions to help people unlearn self-destructive patterns connected to alcohol.