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Addict Narcissists: Substance Abuse and Reckless Behaviors

Uploaded 8/10/2010, approx. 4 minute read

My name is Sam Vaknin. I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.

Pathological narcissism is an addiction to narcissistic supply, attention, admiration, adulation. This is the narcissist's drug of choice. It actively seeks attention in order to regulate his sense of self-worth. It therefore not surprising that other addictive and reckless behaviors such as war-camelism, alcoholism, drug abuse, pathological gambling, compulsory shopping, reckless driving, and even compulsive lying, piggyback on this primary dependence on narcissistic supply.

The narcissist, like other types of addicts, derives pleasure from these exploits. But they also sustain and enhance his grandiose fantasies as unique, superior, entitled, and chosen. These addictive behaviors place him above the laws and pressures of the maintain and away from the humiliating and sobering demands of reality. They render him the center of attention, but also place him in splendid isolation from the maddening and inferior crowd.

Such compulsory and wild pursuits provide a psychological exoskeleton.

These addictive behaviors are a substitute to quotidian existence. They afford the narcissist with an agenda, timetable, goals, and achievements.

The narcissist, being an adrenaline junkie, feels that he is in control, alert, excited, and vital when he does drugs, when he drinks, when he drives recklessly, when he gambles pathologically, and even when he lies. He does not regard his condition as dependence.

The narcissist firmly believes that he is in charge of his addiction, that he can quit at will and on short notice. The narcissist denies his cravings for fear of losing face and subverting the flawless, perfect, immaculate, and omnipotent image that he is trying to project.

When caught red-handed at one of these addictive behaviors, the narcissist underestimates, rationalizes, and intellectualizes his addictive and reckless behaviors. He converts them into an integral part of his grandiose and fantastic 4-cell.

Thus, for instance, a drug-abusing narcissist may claim to be conducting first-hand research for the benefit of humanity. He may say that his substance abuse results in enhanced creativity and productivity for the benefit of mankind.

The dependence of some narcissists becomes a way of life. Busy corporate executives, race car drivers, or professional gamblers may all be narcissists engaging in these behaviors.

The narcissist's addictive behaviors take his mind off his inherent limitations. They divert him from his inevitable failures, from his painful and much-feared rejection, and they serve to bridge what I call the grandiosity gap.

The abyss between the image that the narcissist projects, his false self, and the injurious truth, his drug reality, his shabby existence.

This gap is very painful for the narcissist, and he uses these compulsive, reckless behaviors doing drugs, drinking, gambling, recklessly driving, the logical line, uses these behaviors to bridge the gap.

This conduct relieves his anxiety, results attention between his unrealistic expectations of life and his inflated self-image, and the incommensurate achievements, his low position and status, his non-recognition, his mediocre intelligence, his non-existent wealth, and his less than impressive physique.

Thus, there is no point in treating the dependence and recklessness of the narcissist without first treating the underlying personality disorder.

The narcissist's addictions serve deeply ingrained emotional needs. They intermesh seamlessly with the pathological structure of the narcissist's disorganized personality, with his character faults, with his primitive defense mechanisms.

Techniques such as 12 steps may prove more efficacious in treating the narcissist's grandiosity, rigidity, sense of entitlement, exploitativeness, and lack of empathy.

This is because, as opposed to traditional treatment modalities, the emphasis is on tackling the narcissist's psychological makeup rather than on merely modifying his behavior.

The narcissist's overwhelming need to feel omnipotent, all-powerful, and superior can be co-opted in the therapeutic process. Overcoming an addictive behavior can be, truthfully, presented by a therapist as a rare and impressive feat worthy of the narcissist's unique method.

It can be presented to the narcissist as a challenge. If he is truly omnipotent and all-powerful and superior, can he stop his habits? Can he cease to take drugs? Can he not drink anymore?

It's a challenge, and the narcissist will rise to the challenge nearly in order to support his fallacious self-image and to restore his self-confidence, self-esteem, and sense of self-worth.

Narcissists fall for these transparent features surprisingly often, but this approach can also backfire, unfortunately.

Should the narcissist relapse, which is almost a certainty occurrence, narcissists are recidivists, or should he relapse back to his old habits, he will feel ashamed to admit his fallibility, his need for emotional sustenance, and his impotence.

He is likely to avoid treatment altogether then, and convince himself that now, having succeeded once to get rid of his addiction, he is self-sufficient and omniscient. He needs no one. He can do it all by himself next time.

So it's a double-edged sword, laying up to the narcissist for self-co-opting it, leveraging it to cure the narcissist of his addictive behaviors may backfire.

Next time around, the narcissist may be too ashamed to admit reality and may sort of go into a delusional mode of phase and live forever in a fantasy world where he is in control, regardless of his uncontrollable urges and behaviors.

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Collapsed Narcissist, Collapsed Histrionic

Pathological narcissism is a post-traumatic condition that is a result of severe abuse by primary caregivers, peers, or authority figures. Narcissists require a form of narcissistic supply, and when the supply is deficient, they resort to several adaptive solutions. These solutions include the delusional narrative solution, the antisocial solution, the paranoid schizoid solution, the paranoid, aggressive or explosive solution, and the masochistic avoidance solution. In extreme cases, the collapsed narcissist or collapsed histrionic falls apart in a process of disintegration known as decompensation, which is accompanied by acting out.


Narcissism as Addiction (ICABS 2019: International Conference on Addiction and Behavioral Science)

Professor Sam Vaknin discusses the idea of recasting narcissistic disorders of the self as addictions. He explains that pathological narcissism is a form of addiction to narcissistic supply, which is the narcissist's drug of choice. The pursuit of narcissistic supply is frenetic and compulsive, and when it is missing, the narcissist resorts to abnormal narcissistic supply by behaving recklessly, succumbing to substance abuse, or living dangerously. Narcissists faced with a chronic state of deficient narcissistic supply become criminals, race drivers, gamblers, soldiers, policemen, investigative journalists, or develop phobias, fear, and anxiety.


Depressive Narcissist

Pathological narcissism is often considered a form of depressive illness, with the life of a typical narcissist punctuated with recurrent bouts of dysphoria, sadness, hopelessness, anhedonia, loss of the ability to feel pleasure, and clinical forms of depression. Narcissists react with depression not only to life crises but to fluctuations in narcissistic supply and to the internal dynamics that these fluctuations generate. There are several types of dysphoria and depression in pathological narcissism, including loss-induced dysphoria, deficiency-induced dysphoria, self-worth dysregulation dysphoria, grandiosity gap dysphoria, and self-punishing dysphoria. Many narcissists end up delusional, schizoid, or paranoid to avoid agonizing and knowing depression.


Narcissist Mother's Pet: Her Child

The study of narcissism is still unresolved, with two central debates remaining undecided. The first is whether there is such a thing as healthy narcissism or if all manifestations of narcissism in adulthood are pathological. The second debate is whether pathological narcissism is the result of abuse or spoiling. Narcissism is a defense mechanism intended to shield the narcissist from an injurious world, but as they turn adult, it becomes the main source of hurt and the main generator of injuries. Some narcissists are forced to retreat into a land of delusion and fantasy, even into psychosis.


Narcissism is Tiring Energy-depleting

Personality is a dynamic, ongoing process that is ever-evolving. The more primitive the personality, the less organized, the more disordered, the greater the amount of energy required to maintain it in a semblance of balance and function. Narcissists externalize most of the available energy in an effort to secure a narcissistic supply. The narcissist's constant fatigue and ennui, his short attention span, his tendency to devalue sources of supply, even his transformed aggression.


Narcissist: Is He or Isn't He?

Narcissism is a spectrum of behaviors, from healthy to pathological, and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual specifies nine diagnostic criteria for narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). A malignant narcissist is someone who has NPD and wreaks havoc on themselves and their surroundings. They feel grandiose and self-important, exaggerate accomplishments, and demand recognition as superior without commensurate achievements. They require excessive admiration, adulation, attention, and affirmation, and are interpersonally exploitative, devoid of empathy, and constantly envious of others.


Narcissism: Blessing or Dysfunction?

Pathological narcissism is an addictive behavior that involves an impaired, dysfunctional, and immature true self coupled with a compensatory piece of fiction known as the false self. Narcissists are obsessed with delusions of fantastic grandeur and superiority, and they are very competitive. They are driven, relentless, tireless, and often ruthless. However, three traits conspire to render the narcissist a failure and a loser: his sense of entitlement, his haughtiness and innate conviction of his own superiority, and his aversion to routine.


Narcissist's Addiction Atypical

There is little empirical research on the correlation between personality traits and addictive behaviors. Narcissism is an addiction to narcissistic supply, which is the narcissist's drug of choice. Narcissists derive pleasure from addictive and reckless behaviors, which sustain and enhance their grandiose fantasies. Narcissism is an adaptive behavior, while addiction is self-destructive and has no adaptive value.


Self-Aware Narcissist: Still a Narcissist

Narcissism is pervasive and defines the narcissist's waking moments, infiltrating and permeating their dreams. Narcissists only admit to a problem when they are abandoned, destitute, and devastated. Narcissistic behaviors can be modified using talk therapy and pinpointed medication conditioning, but there is a huge difference between behavior modification and a permanent alteration of a psychodynamic landscape. Narcissism may improve with age, but it is rare.


Compulsive Narcissist

Narcissism is an all-pervasive obsessive-compulsive disorder, with the narcissist seeking to recreate and reenact old traumas and conflicts with figures of primary importance in their life, mainly their parents. The narcissist develops a unique defense mechanism, constructing a story, a narrative, and another self, which is perfect, brilliant, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. The child worships this new deity, succumbing to what they perceive to be the false self's wishes and needs, making sacrifices of narcissistic supply to the false self. The narcissist's compulsive acts are merely an element in their complicated personality, and shaving them off does nothing to ameliorate the narcissist's titanic inner struggle for survival.

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