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.

Idealized, Devalued, Dumped

Narcissists have a cycle of overvaluation and devaluation, which is more prevalent in borderline personality disorder than in narcissistic personality disorder. The cycle reflects the need to be protected against the whims, needs, and choices of other people, shielded from the hurt that they can inflict on the narcissist. The overvaluation and devaluation mechanism is the most efficient one available to the narcissist, as the narcissist's personality is precariously balanced and requires inordinate amounts of energy to maintain. The narcissist's energies are all focused and dedicated to the task concentrated upon the source of supply he had identified.

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.

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.

Narcissists Hard to Spot

Narcissistic personality disorder is difficult to isolate with certainty, and it is important to distinguish between inherent traits and reactive patterns. Narcissism is considered pathological only when it becomes a rigid personality structure with primitive defense mechanisms and leads to dysfunctions in one or more areas of life. Pathological narcissism is the art of deception, and the narcissist projects a false self to manage social interactions. Victims of narcissists often find themselves involved before discovering the narcissist's true nature, and the narcissist emits subtle signals even on a first or casual encounter.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder Prevalence and Comorbidity

Pathological narcissism is a lifelong pattern of traits and behaviors that signify infatuation and obsession with oneself to the exclusion of all others. Healthy narcissism is adaptive, flexible, empathic, and causes elation and joy. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is diagnosed in between 2 and 16% of a population in clinical settings or between 0.5% and 1% of the general population. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is often diagnosed with other mental health disorders, and this is known as comorbidity.

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.

Narcissism: Genetics or Abuse, Nature or Nurture?

The debate over whether pathological narcissism is caused by genetics or upbringing is a confluence of both nature and nurture. Mental illness cannot be explained without considering our genetic makeup and neurophysiology. Narcissistic personality disorder is probably the interplay between a genetic template and the abuse and trauma heaped upon this inner computer. It is safe to attribute the development of narcissistic personality disorder mostly to the environment, to nurture not to nature.

Narcissist as Spoiled Brat

Narcissists require attention and narcissistic supply, and when they cannot obtain it, they may experience decompensation, which can lead to acting out in various ways. Narcissists may resort to several adaptive solutions, including delusional narratives, antisocial behavior, passive-aggressive behavior, paranoid narratives, and masochistic avoidance. These behaviors are all self-generated sources of narcissistic supply. Masochistic narcissists may direct their fury inwards, punishing themselves for their failure to elicit supply, and this behavior has the added benefit of forcing those closest to them to pay attention to them.

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