narcissism and alcoholism: When 2 Evils Meet

You’ve joined your colleagues for a drink after work, and as the night progresses, your narcissistic boss’s behavior becomes increasingly intolerable.

He keeps boasting about his accomplishments, interrupting people, and making tactless remarks that are both hurtful and inappropriate.

If you frequent a lot of bars, you’ve probably noticed that alcohol brings out the narcissist in everyone and tends to amplify a true narcissist’s most unpleasant characteristics.

Can alcoholism cause narcissism? Sort of. When we drink, our inhibitions fall away, and we start to believe we are the most attractive, funniest, and cleverest person in the room.

We talk loudly, interrupt people, and generally behave as if no one else’s feelings matter. In other words, we think and act just like narcissists.

When a narcissist gets drunk, the situation can quickly deteriorate as their grandiose behavior becomes increasingly exaggerated.

They may become overbearing or even threatening. On the other hand, their mask could start to slip, giving you a glimpse of the vulnerable inner self hiding behind the narcissist’s disguise.

alcoholic selfishness

In this article, I want to explore the relationship between narcissists and alcohol, examining why they drink and how alcohol affects their behavior.

Do Narcissists Have Problems with Alcohol?

Not all narcissists have problems with alcohol, but it isn’t uncommon for people with personality disorders to develop alcohol-related problems. 

The National Institute of Mental Health asserts that 22.6% of people suffering from a personality disorder may also have substance misuse problems.

Another study published in 2018 found that both grandiose and vulnerable narcissism were positive predictors of alcohol-related problems, although the way these two groups used alcohol differed, as did their ability to assess their alcohol consumption and the problems it caused. 

For instance, a grandiose narcissist is likely to see the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption, such as getting into fights or suffering blinding hangovers, as positive because they secure social status and admiration from their peers. 

Vulnerable narcissists, on the other hand, tend to be more realistic about alcohol-related problems, such as passing out or feeling sick, and more willing to discuss them.

Why do Narcissists Drink Alcohol?

When discussing the relationship between narcissism and alcoholism, it’s helpful to divide narcissists into two distinct groups.

Grandiose narcissists have an inflated sense of self, an unshakeable belief in their own superiority, and a lack of empathy for those around them. 

Vulnerable narcissists, on the other hand, suffer an underlying sense of insecurity, hypersensitivity to criticism, and fragile self-esteem.

They tend to display more passive-aggressive behaviors, self-pity, and a victim mentality.

However, beneath their outward appearance of humility, they still prioritize their own needs and desires above others and struggle with empathy and genuine emotional connection.

These distinctions influence why narcissists drink.

A grandiose narcissist may drink to show off and gain admiration from their peers, while a vulnerable narcissist may use alcohol as a coping mechanism to overcome their insecurities. 

Vulnerable narcissists are more likely to drink alcohol to:

Cope with Insecurities 

Alcohol can temporarily alleviate the vulnerable narcissist’s feelings of inadequacy, giving them a false sense of confidence that negates their niggling self-doubt.

Regulate their Emotions

Vulnerable narcissists are highly sensitive to criticism and may turn to alcohol to numb the emotional pain and create a temporary buffer against negative feelings.

Combat Social Anxiety 

Alcohol acts as a lubricant, making the vulnerable narcissist feel more at ease in social situations that may otherwise seem overwhelming. 

Self Medicate 

Vulnerable narcissists often experience depression and anxiety, which alcohol can alleviate, at least in the short term.

They may therefore use alcohol as a form of medication to cope with those negative feelings.

Gain Validation and Attention

Like grandiose narcissists, vulnerable narcissists crave validation and attention.

Alcohol can provide a temporary sense of being cared for or admired, which is particularly appealing to individuals with an underlying sense of emotional deprivation.

Grandiose narcissists might drink for similar reasons but are more likely to turn to alcohol to:

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Win Respect 

Narcissists are highly concerned with their image and how others perceive them.

Drinking alcohol may be a way for them to project a carefree and fun-loving image, further bolstering their grandiose self-image.

They may also garner respect for being able to consume more than others or for their willingness to engage in risky behaviors while drunk.

Gain Control and Dominance

A need for power and control often drives narcissists. When intoxicated, they may use alcohol to dominate others, manipulate situations, or maintain a sense of superiority.

Recommended reading: What happens when a narcissist loses control?

Reduce Inhibitions

Alcohol lowers inhibitions, making it easier for narcissists to act on their desires and impulses without feeling restrained by social norms or consequences. This can lead to even more grandiose and attention-seeking behaviors.

Enhance Their Image

Grandiose narcissists are highly concerned with their self-image and how others perceive them.

They may use alcohol to feel more confident, charming, and socially adept, aligning with their belief in superiority.

Dry Drunk and Narcissism

A dry drunk has stopped drinking but hasn’t yet dealt with the issues that caused their alcohol dependence. They have yet to confront the shame, guilt, or past trauma that drew them to alcohol in the first place, so are at risk of relapsing. 

Some of the behaviors exhibited by dry drunks are very similar to those seen in people suffering from narcissistic personality disorder.

For instance, they tend to demonstrate a lack of empathy and are prone to anger, irritability, and impulsivity outbursts. 

Dry-drunk individuals may also exhibit narcissistic behaviors as they struggle to cope with unresolved emotional issues and challenges.

They also tend to avoid genuine self-reflection and deflect blame onto others, refusing to take responsibility for their actions. 

A narcissistic person attempting to recover from alcoholism or alcohol use disorder may struggle due to their inability to empathize and take accountability for past behaviors, making them more likely to end up as dry drunks rather than complete the recovery process successfully. 

Are all Narcissists Alcoholics?

Not all narcissists are alcoholics, nor are all alcoholics narcissists, although alcoholism often causes people to develop narcissistic traits, such as arrogance, self-absorption, and a lack of empathy. 

Similarly, people displaying narcissistic tendencies are more vulnerable to alcoholism because of the reasons explored earlier. 

Are most Narcissists Alcoholics?

While there are no statistics on the percentage of narcissists who are alcoholics, experts believe there is a link between the two conditions.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise when considering why people are driven to drink.

A survey conducted by the Recovery Village in 2020 found that those who were at risk of developing an alcohol dependency and sought to stop drinking first used alcohol to cope with stress, alleviate mental health symptoms like depression and anxiety, fit in socially, or simply out of boredom.

All these factors increase the likelihood of a narcissist developing a problem with alcohol.

Why Narcissists Are at Risk of Alcohol Addiction

Research suggests that narcissists suffer more stress than non-narcissists, possibly because they’re actually more insecure. 

Studies suggest that “narcissists have higher cortisol and cardiovascular reactivity in socially threatening situations” and experience more stress. 

They depend on others for validation; if that’s not forthcoming, their whole world collapses – an experience that drives them to find solace in the bottom of a bottle. 

Furthermore, narcissists may be more prone to feelings of depression and anxiety, with studies indicating that “around 29% of those with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) also had a mood disorder.”

Narcissists base their self-worth on the praise and attention of others, and when they fail to secure it experience depressive symptoms like shame and isolation, which they seek to drown in alcohol.

Another reason narcissists are likely to become alcoholics is their desire to fit in or stand out in social situations.

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Alcohol helps the narcissist overcome their deep-seated insecurities and gain confidence, increasing the likelihood of them experiencing problems with alcohol later on. 

Narcissists are well known for their inability to cope with boredom. The experience of having nothing to do, and no one to impress, fills them with dread because it brings with it a risk of self-reflection.

They will do anything to avoid scrutinizing their inner selves, even if it means drinking so much that it hurts their lives. 

Another reason narcissists are at risk of becoming addicted to alcohol is that they believe they’re impervious to its negative effects.

Narcissists think they’re better than everyone else and even that they’re unaffected by the effects of alcohol abuse due to their inherent superiority. 

How do Narcissists Act When They Drink?

How narcissists behave when they drink depends on the individual and who they’re with.

If they’ve just started dating a new partner and are still in the love-bombing phase, they’re likely to become even more vociferous about their love and admiration for that idealized person.

However, if they’ve already moved into the devaluation phase, they may become aggressive or even violent.

Some of the most common behaviors you’ll see in a narcissist who’s been drinking include:

Boastfulness

Under the influence of alcohol, the narcissist’s inflated sense of self-importance becomes even more pronounced.

The more they drink, the more they boast about their achievements, talents, and conquests, interrupting conversations to direct the attention back to themselves and exaggerating their stories to make them sound even more impressive.

Attention-Seeking

While on a drinking binge, a narcissist may start fabricating stories to secure the attention and sympathy of those around them.

They will fabricate stories of victimization or exaggerate minor issues to gain validation and emotional support while using their drunken state to excuse their behavior.

Flirtatiousness

When drunk, a narcissist may use their charm to seduce individuals, pushing boundaries and engaging in risky behaviors to feed their need for attention and excitement.

They may also engage in casual sexual encounters, not caring about the impact that may have on others, least of all their most recent conquest. 

Aggressiveness

As alcohol impairs judgment, a narcissist’s underlying need for control and power can escalate into full-scale aggression.

They may become irritable, confrontational, and domineering, verbally attacking anyone who challenges their views or refuses to comply with their demands. 

Does Alcohol Make Narcissistic Behavior Worse?

Alcohol tends to bring out the narcissist in everyone, even if they show very few narcissistic traits when sober.

If someone already scores highly on the narcissistic front, adding alcohol will only exacerbate those narcissistic traits, making their behavior even more grandiose, controlling, and attention-seeking than normal. 

Furthermore, as alcohol reduces inhibitions, it may exacerbate other narcissistic behaviors, such as heightened self-absorption, denial, delusions of grandeur, and destructive tendencies.

Do Narcissists Tell the Truth When They’re Drunk?

As far as the narcissist is concerned, they tell the truth 99% of the time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that truth aligns with yours. 

Narcissists don’t see the world the same way as the rest of us and often mistake their feelings for facts. If they think something’s wrong, it is, and nothing can sway them from that truth. 

Because of this skewed worldview, narcissists hardly ever acknowledge anyone else’s truth, and nor will getting them drunk bring them any closer to achieving that. 

According to some of my clients who’ve had experience with alcoholic narcissists, they might tell a few select half-truths when drunk and even reveal something of their underlying insecurities.

But it’s unlikely they’ll reveal the whole, unadulterated truth, regardless of how much they drink. 

Recommended reading: How do you make a narcissist tell the truth?

Dealing with the Alcoholic Narcissist

Dealing with an alcoholic is demanding, and coping with a narcissist is far from easy, so when you combine the two, you have a real challenge. 

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8 Ways to Deal with an Alcoholic Narcissist

#1 Set Boundaries

Establish clear boundaries to protect your emotional well-being, being clear about what behaviors you’re willing to tolerate and what your reaction will be if those boundaries are crossed.

You may, for example, ban your partner from drinking around you or refuse to give them money knowing they’ll only spend it on alcohol. 

#2 Avoid Enabling

Avoid enabling the alcoholic narcissist’s destructive behaviors by refusing to make excuses for their actions.

Let them face the consequences of their behavior and the impact their alcohol abuse is having on their lives.

#3 Avoid Arguing

Engaging in arguments with an alcoholic narcissist can be futile and emotionally draining.

Narcissists often manipulate discussions to suit their narrative, so it’s best to disengage when conversations become heated.

#4 Seek Support

Contact friends, family, or support groups to share your experiences and feelings.

Having a support network can provide emotional validation and guidance during challenging times.

#5 Practice Self-Care

Prioritize your physical and emotional well-being. Engage in activities that bring you joy, relaxation, and peace.

Self-care is crucial for maintaining your resilience and emotional strength.

#6 Encourage Professional Help

Suggest that the alcoholic narcissist seek professional help to address both their addiction and narcissistic traits. However, be prepared for potential resistance or denial.

#7 Set Realistic Expectations

Understand that you cannot change the alcoholic narcissist’s behavior and focus instead on managing your reactions and responses.

#8 Safety First

If the situation becomes physically or emotionally unsafe, prioritize your safety. Remove yourself from harmful situations, and seek assistance if needed.

How to Live Together with an Alcoholic Narcissist?

Living with an alcoholic narcissist can be an emotional rollercoaster, and maintaining your equilibrium can be challenging in the face of their ever-changing emotions and demands. 

You can survive the experience by applying the techniques listed above, but at some point, you will have to bring up the subject of treatment.

Both narcissistic personality disorder and alcoholism are treatable conditions, but getting an alcoholic narcissist to accept help is notoriously difficult.

They will often be convinced that they’re entitled to do whatever they want and that their drinking isn’t a problem but a social benefit. 

Without treatment, it’s unlikely your relationship will last. The combination of a self-obsessed narcissist who never considers your feeling and an alcoholic who blames their need to drink on you can quickly destroy the strongest bond. 

How to Leave an Alcoholic Narcissist?

Leaving an alcoholic narcissist requires careful planning and support. Narcissists hate rejection and are liable to respond aggressively or use manipulation to make you change your mind.

If you can no longer live in an abusive relationship with an alcoholic narcissist, you’ll need to take the following steps to bring it to an end: 

  • Seek professional guidance from a therapist or counselor who, like myself, specializes in narcissistic personality disorder and addiction.
  • Build a support network of friends, family members, and support groups who can offer understanding, encouragement, and a safe space to share your experiences.
  • Prioritize your safety and involve law enforcement or seek a restraining order if you feel you’re in danger.
  • Plan your departure carefully, and have a specific date and safe place to stay once you’ve left.
  • Limit or cut off contact with the narcissist, especially during the initial stages of separation, to reduce their ability to influence your decision-making.
  • Focus on self-care so you can recover from the emotionally draining experience of being in a relationship with an alcoholic narcissist.
  • Prepare for emotional manipulation such as guilt-tripping or gaslighting, and keep reminding yourself why leaving is necessary for your well-being.
  • Stay firm in your decision; remember you deserve a healthy and supportive relationship.
  • Stay resilient, focus on personal growth, and surround yourself with positive influences to help you build a new and fulfilling life.

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