What are the Differences between Narcissism and Alcoholic Selfishness?

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“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.


  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

About Alexander Burgemeester

4 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.

  2. Wendy Barb says:

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

  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.

  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.

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