Substance Use

Narcissism and Addiction: Is There a Link?

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The intricate relationship between narcissism and addiction presents a compelling area of study within the psychological sciences. Narcissism, characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance and a deep need for admiration, might initially seem unrelated to addiction, which involves compulsive engagement with substances or behaviors despite harmful consequences. 

However, deeper analysis reveals that both phenomena can stem from similar emotional vulnerabilities, such as low self-esteem and an inability to manage stress effectively. In some cases, this can come from family member history. (1)

This overlap suggests that individuals with narcissistic traits may turn to addictive behaviors as a maladaptive strategy to cope with their inner pain and insecurities. The temporary relief or gratification provided by substance use or addictive activities offers an escape from the negative feelings they typically avoid confronting.

Understanding this link is crucial for:

  • Developing more effective treatment plans tailored specifically toward these overlapping disorders
  • Addressing underlying emotional pain points rather than merely focusing on symptomatic relief when combating addiction and significant levels of narcissism
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Narcissism and Addiction

You may be surprised to learn that narcissism and addiction often go hand-in-hand. Research has shown evidence that people with narcissism have an increased risk of addiction. Narcissists are commonly found to be addicted to using drugs, alcohol, sex, and even social media.

Most active drug addicts have narcissistic traits; likewise, most narcissists have the overwhelming need to escape their emotions or pain. This is not to say that all narcissists are addicts or all addicts are narcissists, but the connection between the two is important to understand. (2)

Is There a Connection Between Narcissism and Addiction?

Yes, much evidence indicates a connection between narcissists and addicts. However, there is a difference between narcissism and addiction. Both narcissists and addicts seek something to fill a void. (3)

Narcissists find it through praise and attention, whereas addicts find it through alcohol, drugs, sex, or other addictions.

People with drug abuse, alcohol use disorder, or other addictions frequently have similar characteristics.

The most common personality traits linked to addiction include: (4)

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Impulsivity
  • Risk-taking

The personality traits that often lead to addiction may be attributed to any of the following triggers:

  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
  • Drugs and alcohol
  • Genetic predisposition or heredity
  • Trauma

What Is Narcissism?

Narcissism is categorized as a personality disorder. It’s often associated with other disorders dual-diagnosis, including substance abuse and other mental health conditions. 

According to the National Library of Medicine, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) can be defined as a “pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy.” In simplest terms, narcissists believe they’re better than anyone else. (5)

Their selfishness, ego, self-importance, inflated sense of self, and entitlement can affect their:

  • Work
  • School
  • Relationships
  • Finances
  • Everyday lives

The cause of narcissism isn’t well known or understood, but researchers suggest it stems from experiences in early childhood, such as inattentive parenting. Narcissism usually starts during early adulthood and is found in more men than women.

Some of the Effects Of Narcissism

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) outlined the signs and symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder. This is what mental health professionals use to diagnose patients. (5)

To be diagnosed with narcissism, you must exhibit at least five of the following:

  • Exaggerates achievements or expects recognition in the absence of achievements
  • Fantasize about success, power, beauty, or perfect love
  • Believes they and those they associated with are “special” 
  • Requires excessive admiration and attention
  • Has a sense of entitlement or unreasonable expectation 
  • Takes advantage of people for their benefit
  • Lacks empathy for others as young adults
  • Envies others or believes others are envious of them
  • Displays arrogance or cocky behaviors and attitudes

What Is the Consequence of Narcissism?

People with narcissism suffer many consequences of this personality disorder. The National Institute of Health (NIH) published a study on what some of these consequences may be.

It’s important to note that 50-75% of those diagnosed with NPD are males. (6)

Mental Health

In patients diagnosed with NPD, researchers noticed the following prevalence rates: (6)

  • Substance abuse disorders: 40.6%
  • Mood disorders: 28.6%
  • Anxiety disorders: 40%

Narcissism was also found to be a predictor of multiple suicide attempts. These suicide attempts are often related to being fired from a job, issues at home, or problems with finances or health. 

Physical Health

Narcissists tend to have health problems and mortality rates due to the following: 

  • Cardiovascular disease 
  • Gastrointestinal conditions

Behavioral Health

People with narcissism are also more likely to exhibit behavior that leads to the following: (7)

  • Criminal conviction 
  • Prison time 
  • Interpersonal violence
  • Pain or suffering to others
  • Impaired social role functioning

Healthcare Utilization

NPD is strongly associated with the following:

  • High healthcare utilization across different services
  • Challenging provider-patient relationships 
  • Poor self-care behavior and adherence

Types of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Narcissistic personality disorder can manifest itself in various ways. Narcissists can exhibit characteristic behaviors to varying degrees as well.

Narcissism is typically broken down into two main types:

  • Overt Narcissism – This common form of narcissism is associated with inflated egos, grandiosity, exaggerated accomplishments, and activities to impress others. The person cannot acknowledge any faults or shortcomings, though quick to point them out to others. The person can be an extrovert to gain attention and boast, but a lack of empathy leads to superficial relationships. (8)
  • Covert Narcissism – This type of NPD is also known as vulnerable narcissism. They may appear to be shy, reserved, self-deprecating, and worried. At the same time, they constantly compare themselves to others, leading them to spend more time alone and experience higher levels of suicide. (9)

Many other types of narcissism exist, including the following:

  • Hypervigilant Narcissism – Fear rejection, so always look for threats or criticism
  • Grandiose Narcissism – Exaggerated patterns of superiority and a lack of consideration for others.
  • Exhibitionist Narcissism – Always seeking to be the center of attention 
  • Sexual Narcissism – Prioritize their own sexual needs but lack empathy or emotional closeness. (10)
  • Vindictive Narcissism – Take disagreements, boundaries, rejection, and criticism personally, responding with rage, retaliation, etc.
  • Malignant Narcissism – Combines traits of NPD and antisocial personality disorder, including arrogance, a lack of empathy, and mistreatment of others. (11)
  • Antagonistic Narcissism – Display unappealing traits of entitlement, lack of empathy, and disregard for others. 
  • Somatic Narcissist – Feel superior, entitled, and worthy based on physical appearance or fitness. 
  • Cerebral Narcissism – Need to be seen as intelligent, well-read, and expert, often boasting about themselves or downplaying others. (12)
  • Spiritual Narcissism – Self-worth is obtained from their faith and ability to influence others.
  • Communal Narcissism – Possess inflated perceptions of themselves within a community, believing they are the best among them all. (13)
  • Healthy Narcissism – Prioritize their own needs without feeling guilty and share successes without the need to gain admiration. 

The Cycle of Addiction in the Narcissistic Individual

The cycle of addiction in individuals with narcissistic traits unfolds through a complex interplay between their psychological needs and the temporary solace offered by addictive behaviors. At its core, this cycle is propelled by an incessant pursuit of validation and an escape from deep-seated feelings of inadequacy or vulnerability. (14)

For someone with narcissism, substances or compulsive behaviors provide momentary boosts to self-esteem and a facade of control over one’s life, while simultaneously eroding genuine self-worth, well-being, and autonomy.

Initially, engagement in addictive activities may present itself as an effective strategy for coping with emotional discomfort.

The individual might experience brief periods where the effects of substance use or other addictive behaviors successfully mask feelings of emptiness or low self-regard—reinforcing their reliance on such mechanisms for emotional regulation.

However, as tolerance builds up, these moments become fleeting; what once offered relief now becomes a source of further distress.

This escalation not only amplifies the underlying issues but also entrenches denial—a hallmark trait among many narcissistic personalities—making it increasingly difficult to recognize the destructive patterns at play.

As dependency deepens, so does the impact on interpersonal relationships and social functioning.

Narcissistic individuals may manipulate others to sustain their addiction or engage in grandiose displays that alienate them from potential support networks—all while struggling internally with shame and fearfulness about losing face if vulnerabilities are exposed. (15)

Breaking free from this toxic cycle requires confronting both facets head-on, addressing the root causes fueling narcotic tendencies alongside tackling addiction itself. This approach necessitates tailored therapeutic interventions grounded in empathy rather than judgmental reproach, which could otherwise reinforce defensive postures common amongst those displaying strong narcissistic characteristics.

Can Alcoholism Mimic Narcissism?

Researchers have found quite a number of connections to narcissism, such as eating disorders and the addictive use of social media. Grandiose narcissism has also been linked to alcohol abuse, according to a published research study on addictive behaviors and personality disorders. (14) (16) (17)

Alcoholism may be related to or mimic narcissism in several ways:

  • Need for approval
  • Increased feelings of shame
  • Disinterest in those who don’t provide needed admiration 
  • Replace others with “ideal” states induced by drugs

Substance use in narcissists is thought to be brought on by self-regulating functions, such as behaviors to maintain their high self-esteem. While this study focused on alcoholism, narcissism has been linked to other substance use disorders like cocaine.

The cycle of addiction with co-occurring disorders is even harder to overcome. It will require a combination of drug and alcohol addiction treatment and behavioral therapies.

Learn About Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment

If you or someone you know lives with a narcissist and addict, you may wonder if the two conditions are linked. Researchers agree that there is a connection between narcissism and many different types of addiction. When it comes to substance abuse, some addictions have similar traits to narcissism, which require treatment programs.

In addition, many narcissists who attempt to avert low self-esteem often turn to drugs to replace the real with the ideal. Whether you have a narcissistic personality disorder, a substance use disorder, or co-occurring disorders, programs can be tailored to your individual needs or the needs of a loved one.

The team of substance abuse specialists at Zinnia Health knows all too well what it takes to overcome addiction. The road to recovery is not easy, but our customized addiction and mental health therapy programs can help. Let us walk you through every step of the treatment process. Call our 24-hour helpline at (855) 430-9439 to learn how to get started.


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(855) 430-9439
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