What are the Differences between Narcissism and Alcoholic Selfishness?

“I have heard that alcoholism can look just like narcissism when a person is abusing, but when the person sobers up the narcissism goes away. What is the difference between narcissism (NPD) and alcoholic selfishness?”

NPD, or narcissistic personality disorder, is a condition where the narcissism is an integral part of the person’s personality. Therefore, drunk or sober, the person will display excessive self-absorption, an over-inflated sense of self, and feel that he deserves special treatment. He will show no empathy for others and will always put his needs above the needs or concerns of everyone else. Always. A person with NPD will exhibit these same characteristics even after years of not drinking. Abstinence does not make them disappear.

Alcoholic selfishness has many of the same characteristics while a person is using. Many alcoholics demand to be the center of attention, put their needs above their families’, and they strongly deny that their behavior is a problem. The use of many drugs, including alcohol, does indeed produce feelings of over-inflated sense of self. That is one of the reasons they use- it makes them feel more confident. However, when the addiction to alcohol is resolved, the individual will no longer exhibit those characteristics because the traits of narcissism aren’t a part of his typical personality.

Sometimes alcoholism is co-diagnosed with NPD. That does not mean that all alcoholics are narcissists, although they certainly may have some narcissistic traits. Until the issue of alcohol addiction is resolved, it may not be clear whether the alcohol was causing NPD traits or whether the person is indeed a narcissist.

All narcissists are selfish; not all selfish people are narcissists

There is a big difference between “general” selfish behavior and narcissistic behavior. Selfishness, or sometimes it is just thoughtlessness, will cause the person doing it to feel concern or dismay when you bring it to their attention. They usually will apologize, but most important- they can stop (they may not stop, but they can stop). They will accept responsibility or at least acknowledge the behavior. All of this, of course, is assuming the behavior is being talked about in a rational manner…it is not likely to happen in the middle of a screaming match.

Narcissistic Selfishness

A person with NPD, on the other hand, will:

  •  Never acknowledge the behavior
  • Never take responsibility for the behavior
  • More than likely blame YOU for the behavior (or claim you made them do it, or that you are the one who is acting selfish)
  • Not be able to stop the selfish behaviors—ever
  • Use “gaslighting” which goes far above blame and denial. Gaslighting is considered by some to be a form of ‘brainwashing’; it is when an abuser tries to convince the victim that they are crazy or imagining it (the abuse or selfish behavior) or that somehow they are defective for thinking it. It can be used to make the victim more pliable, more easily controlled, or more emotional so that they are more dependent.

Why Living with Alcoholism Feels Like Living with Narcissism

The person with a narcissistic personality does not view people as individuals with their own needs and wishes; they are simply extensions of him. A narcissist gathers around him people who behave in such a way as to meet his needs (such as for admiration or power) or that enhance his vision of himself. For instance, they belong to the best country club or attend his university of choice, etc. If family members or his “in crowd” begin to act separately or have too many opinions of their own, his equilibrium becomes threatened.

Living with an alcoholic is highly similar to this. The alcoholic or addict is continuously seeking his next “fix”- the fix is how they maintain their equilibrium. Obtaining his next fix is a priority and this need of his comes before anybody else’s needs. Just like the narcissist who lives for his next fix. They are both self-absorbed and both only concerned with their own priorities. The selfishness of the alcoholic and the narcissist are observed in their lack of awareness, or even lack of caring, about the needs of those around them. They come first; everyone else’s needs come second or not at all. They both have overwhelming, overpowering needs-whether it is for their next drink or for their next drug, food or sexual encounter.

A person with alcoholic selfishness is very much like a narcissist. Addiction produces a kind of narcissism. The addiction is preoccupying and it takes over the person’s body, mind and soul. It is all-consuming. Living with alcoholic selfishness is a lot like living with narcissism because no matter what you do or how hard you try, you will always come second.

References:

  1. http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110121174515AAiTAE
  2. http://postcardstoanarcissist.wordpress.com/what-is-the-difference-between-selfishness-and-narcissism/
  3. http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Are_all_alcoholics_narcissists
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About Alexander Burgemeester

12 Responses to “What are the Differences between Narcissism and Alcoholic Selfishness?”

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  1. jane says:

    Hello. I believe my husband is a narcissist. I see that he gaslights, I see his needs only being met, I feel the crazymaking, I feel my selfesteem falling. I self soothe with alcohol, so I’m wondering if my drinking is fueling my husbands narcissistic ways, by me becoming more driven to drink. I do feel my drinking is an issue due to the fact that he is a narcissist and I’m losing my mind.

    • Evie says:

      I am going through what you’ve described. What has helped me is know that God loves you and provides peace to me. Take care of YOU! It is hard, I know. Prayers for you.

  2. Wendy Barb says:

    What about the narcissist step-father? I have found nothing about Ns and how they treat other men’s children?

    • Sam says:

      They treat other mens children as a source of supply – a major major source of supply. …. grew up with npd ‘dad’ and was not allowed to have my own interests and had to earn every morsel of food that went into my mouth and also got lectures and lectures about bitches because I guess my mom was one for leaving the sob and was brainwashed to look at him as a saviour even though he treated me like crap and did not recognize any accomplishments. Only lectures about shortcomings and his sex life. Supported him through high school and got told on grad how stupid I looked as I crossed the stage. And he only wants me to come over to smoke up with me so I can be wifey again.

  3. Not her victim says:

    Excellent post! I believe that many with NPD abuse substances, because it allows them to blame their toxic behavior on the substances. There is a certain degree of tolerance in society for substance abusers. There is little tolerance for nasty, abusive behavior alone.

    You have hit the nail on the head. If someone manages to stop abusing substances and still behaves like a nasty, abusive jerk, then they’re a nasty, abusive jerk, period. They probably have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is not curable. There is no such thing as a “dry drunk”: there is NPD.

    • Easy Does It says:

      There is such a condition as “Dry Drunk” Talk to any seasoned Recovering Alcholic who has gone past learning the “self help” cliches. They’ve worked the program with a sponsor and are usually people who are humble and grateful. They understand the desease is progressive and without AA and without drinking, they can still be “crazy makers” Those in early sobriety will admit they are Alcholics, they will not admit they are Dry Drunk’s. At this stage they are angry they cannot drink, the behaviour is similar to when they were drinking and can continue for years. The drinking is a symptom of the desease. Remove the bottle and you will see why they drink. They are broken, angry people and that is where their work begins.

  4. Lucy says:

    IMP the alcoholic is worse than the NPD. True
    My first marriage sadly lasted abt 2-weeks, all bcos I was naïve and didn’t even know the young man I’d got engaged had been drinking since a early age 14-yrs old. He was 24 when we got married, but in that very short marriage, he was a workaholic, which meant he commuted to work and then came home couldn’t be bothered to be with me and then told me to go to bed on my own, then drank on his own whilst reading newspapers. What a sad young man he was. The next morning, he’d left for work early and there was the evidence – empty wine bottles left behind the sofa – EVERY NIGHT. We had terrible rows in that 2-weeks, so he just packed his bag and left me. Met anthr woman at work and moved in with her, whilst still married to me! I was left with a tiny baby, a mortgage and a broken heart. I struggled for 10-years on my own whilst he talked to me like I was dogs muck. No CBT or anything could prepare or even help me get over that one. I’m still alive bcos I had my child for company.
    I had a fleeting ‘friendship’ with a man I met on-line, lasted abt 1-year. Turned out he was a Narcissist due to being put in boarding school at 2-yrs old. But actually the NPD treat me better than the alcoholic Husband!
    The NPD never called me nasty names, he felt for me if I cried, he even lent me some money when I times for tough.
    However, the alcoholic had not a compassionate bone in his body.
    Now I’m remaining single probably for life.

    • Lisa says:

      Thats so sad :’-(
      I‘ve had a lot of bad experiences too – an abusive, sadistic father, a manipulative sleazy teacher in school, and a selfish, secretly abusive alcoholic boyfriend… But I just want you to know that there are good men too :-)
      I’ve met them, known them and had relationships with them. The trick is spotting selfish and controlling behaviour before you get involved with someone :-)
      I’m glad you escaped those horrible people though :-)

  5. K says:

    **If you post this on your site, please change my name and keep my e-mail from public view.

    This article on alcoholics/narcissism was interesting to me. I was married for 27 years to an active alcoholic. 5 years later I am now married to a man who I suspect could be a narcissist. He pursued me so heavily I was smitten. He displayed the selfish tendencies and lack of empathy while we were dating but I thought it was because his ex-wife had treated him so poorly and he had a pending business lawsuit. I thought (while dating) that I should leave the relationship but he was adamant that I not leave. He told me I was a coward and running away without trying to work it out. Our fights always happened at night and I was held against a wall, held in bed and basically strong armed to wait until morning. When morning came the apology came but now in retrospect, he would say he was sorry, BUT if I hadn’t done or said such and such, he would not have acted that way. Well, (le’ sigh) I married him. When he’s charming he thanks me for every meal I cook and wants to be with me all the time (we are both retired). BUT, if I want to get out of bed in the morning before him (say before 8:00 am) I am told I’m being selfish as he can’t sleep without me in bed. If I don’t want to shower with him, I’m being selfish. And when my child comes to see me (he likes her) he behaves very obsessive towards me. Doesn’t want me to stay up late with her or get up early to talk to her. He also has a lot of control issues over sex.
    I never thought about narcissism being an issue. I have fallen more times than I care to say (in just 2 short years) into the game of ‘responding’ when he is suddenly yelling and angry with me. I get defensive and ‘game-on’!!! He must win (and he does) and I feel stupid and humiliated (usually having shouted back and feeling out of control). He does say I don’t listen to him, I don’t remember things correctly and often times my opinion is just plain wrong.
    Your web-site is helping me and I thank you for all the great information.

    K

  6. Charlotte says:

    I’m in the process of summoning up the strength to walk away from a partner who I know to be an alcoholic and I suspect has Bpd or narcissistic personality. I’m not a psychiatrist and so can’t make a diagnosis for sure (although Amazon did send me an advertisement email the other day for a psychology course. That’s what my kindle reading list and internet cookies say about me!!!) but I have a pretty good idea that the pain I feel isn’t right. I’ve been with this man for four years after a stint of being pretty much single for 6 years. My previous relationship with a man who I had a child with had ended but we had maintained a stable relationship and remain friends to this day. During those six years I had moved 150 miles away with my son to start a new life. I completed a degree with the highest honours and as my son was only four when the degree began, there really was little time for dating. I then started my own business which is still going today. Life was pretty good. Then I met my alcoholic partner.

    In the beginning it was wonderful,exciting,loving,passionate and a bit of a party but there were many red flags that I missed or put down to other factors. I had known this guy for several years, not well, but friend of friends. I also knew his ex partner, again not well, who left him two years previously. She had mentioned once to me that he just never considered her feelings. A comment that many wives could say of their partners but now I know that this was just a tip of the iceberg.

    Another reason many flags were missed was that his youngest daughter had tragically died 2 years previously. The most awful thing in the world became his main get out of jail card. I listened to all the pain he had ever felt. I held him when he cried. I gave him money when he hadn’t done enough work to pay his bills(due to excessive drinking). I did things for his daughters, at the time 16 and 14. Lovely girls. I cleaned his house as well as mine. I sorted computer issues. Work invoices. Cooked food. Ran my business which was expanding and looked after my son. No time for me. My life was on a slippery slope. And it was becoming all about him.

    Then came the insidious abuse. Little comments that could easily be missed or if questioned about they could be eye rolled into “you’re so sensitive”. Turning up chronically late with no apology. Once I had cooked a special dinner, I called him at 8.30pm which was when he was supposed to be round and he said “I’m in my pyjamas, I’m really tired so I’m just going to stay here”. Dinner was on the table! Another time we arranged to go camping. After I finished work I got all the things together and waited…and waited…and waited. He was meant to be around at 3pm. No answer to texts or phone calls. I should have known better but I was actually quite worried that he was ok. Turns out he had decided to go to his ex partners birthday party. He called me at 9pm to see if I wanted to join him!!! Er…I didn’t! Friends of his who I met in the early days were being kept separate. It was like he was drawing up recruits in an army to fight a war that I didn’t know I was going to be in.His behaviour would go from adoration style loving, to cold disdain very quickly. The first time it happened ( about 4 months in) I said to him “look, I can accept that you are feeling low or anxious or depressed or just need some space but I need to know that it’s not to do with us. Are we ok?” To that he looked at me with a total lack of emotion behind his eyes and said. “I don’t know how I feel about you anymore”. He then got up. Got dressed. And left. Not a word of explanation. Nothing. I didn’t hear from him for 5 days. Leaving me to wonder what the #### just happened? He came back then, says he didn’t know what he was thinking and of course he loves me “why wouldn’t i love you?” Is his favourite question. Lather, rinse, repeat. The cycle started with a rage/abuse/dropout every few months but soon that changed to every month, then to weeks, now it can be days. I’m sure anyone who has gone through this knows the sheer exhaustion I feel. I tried everything I could think of to make it work but there was nothing I could do. If I didn’t react to one of his episodes in the early stage it would escalate. Sometimes just a tirade of abuse that went on and on until I would break. Literally just broke down and cried. That still didn’t stop him. Sometimes he would throw in something like “so why did #### (previous partner) leave you?”
    He gaslights. Invalidates my feelings. Walks out on discussions. Doesn’t care how his actions affect me or my son. He’s Jekyll and Hyde. Denial to so many things. Tells lies. Omits events. Intentionally vague. Re writes past events.

    He texts other women late at night when he’s been drinking at home alone.
    We broke up last year and I went on a blind dinner date with a friend of a friend. It was just dinner but he found out and the same evening I was having dinner(which ended in a peck on the cheek and a “it was lovely to meet you”) he went round to one of these women’s houses and had drunk, unprotected sex with her. The next day he was calling me saying that he needed to talk. He was going to change he wanted me to move in. We had a six good months and did a trial move in(I kept my house) Two days after me and my son moved in with him and his girls things changed. He got out of bed early one morning. When I came downstairs all of my personal things, a picture, a photo, a message on the fridge,cushions, anything had been stripped from his house and were in a heap by the back door. He was drinking heavily was on prescription painkillers and had that familiar cold disconnected look in his eyes. He walked out and his parting words were that he wanted me gone by Monday. I sat alone in his house. This was Friday and Sunday was a huge art fair event that I was doing and had been promised his help…I didn’t get the help. I needed a happy public face and to this day I do not know where that energy came from. Later that day I discovered that he had had sex with the woman six months previously. I then moved out on Monday. Partway through moving a chair we were carrying he looked at me with fear and said “I’ve really done it this time. This doesn’t feel right”.

    Push,pull,push,pull,push,pull.

    I find myself questioning everything now. He told me in the last rage that “I haven’t even seen what he’s capable of yet”. I figure that I can live without seeing that!

    I do feel like an idiot for going back as many times as I did but there are good parts and periods where he seems to connect and really feel bad about how he behaves. His childhood was severely neglectful and his mother is a narcissist to boot. It’s so complicated that my head gets in a mess trying to work out which problem is causing which. He has also been in therapy for well over a year now. He has tried to stop drinking but with no success. I will be 40 this year and I am hoping that this time I can break free. I know that I will take time to heal so maybe my life can just begin at 41!

    To anyone out there who is going through a similar situation my heart goes out to you. Romantic attachment can be a dangerous thing if it’s with someone with a condition like this. I’m a total glass half full person (even though when I mention his abusive behaviour he says, “do you think you like to play the victim??”)

    Anyway big breath. Stiff upper lip. I’m taking my life back!!

  7. jeanc says:

    Charlotte, your situation sounds so much like mine. I divorced mine years ago after being married only 4 years because of physical abuse. I went on with my life but seems he was always there making trouble or just being around so we eventually played house again for a couple of years, during that time I joined in his drinking so it really didnt bother me the way he was.When my first grandchild was born I said no more and left and although he still bothered me we had no physical contact for years…I guess about 3 yr later my son who had joined the army was expected a child with a girl he hardly knew..she had several kids she had lost already so my son had decided to raise the baby…I got him from the hospital when he was born because my son was deployed.. My ex then came and begged me to move back with him and raise the baby..my ex had never had kids..I thought because we were in our 40s by now certainly he was different; I knew I was…to make a long story shorter,lol the child turned out not to be my sons so I got custody and he is my son..he is now 5 and I have been with my ex(whom he calls daddy) since he was 4 months. Things were ok for a couple years(occasional drunk episodes) but this past year I just starting feeling lonely and insecure…I had never checked on him before but I did and boy what he had been up to this past year..I caught sex texting on his phone, messaging on facebook and just found out he had been sleeping with a neighbor the past year. Of coures he denies it but she told her husband the truth..Through all of this he has done the push and pull thing all these years, I just see it now because Im older and see things different. He has begged me not to leave and says he loves me but I dont believe that. I am so glad I read your article because it lets me know I’m not the only one who has seen this behavior…it is a roller coaster ride that I am so ready to get off but dont know where to begin…ANY SUGGESTION?????????

  8. Kitty says:

    @JeanC

    I’ve been separated for four months from my husband of 33 years who most probably has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. He also drinks and his health suffers. It is difficult, of course, because like the other writers in this comment section I’m a magnet for NPD. I need to analyze carefully why I find that sort of person attractive.

    There are some excellent youtube videos on the subject. Sam Valknin (a unusually perceptive narcissist) has some excellent videos on how to spot narcissists and get out of their spheres of influence. There are some other good presenters that will become obvious once you listen a minute or so.

    Here is a sample on setting firm personal boundaries. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCwFcPWslDQ&list=UULadFapyecCYAeuTqc12avA

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