My name is Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.
Of a luminous literature notwithstanding, there is very little convincing empirical research about the correlation between personality traits and addictive behaviors. Substance abuse and dependence in the forms of alcoholism or drug addiction, that is only one form of recurrent and self-defeating patterns of misconduct. People are addicted to all kinds of things, gambling, shopping, the internet, reckless, life-endangering pursuits, and more.
Adrenaline junkies are all around us and abound. The connection between chronic anxiety, or histological narcissism, depression, obsessive-compulsive traits, and alcoholism and drug abuse, this connection is well-documented, well-established, and very common in clinical practice.
But not all narcissists, compulsives, depressives, and anxious people turn to the bottle or to the needle.
Frequent claims of finding a gene complex responsible for alcoholism have been consistently cast in doubt, not to say refuted.
In 1993, Berman and Noble suggested that addictive, reckless behaviors are mere emergent phenomena and may be linked to other more fundamental traits, such as novelty-seeking or risk-taking.
Psychopaths, patients with antisocial personality disorder, have both qualities in ample quantities, both novelty-seeking and risk-taking. We would expect psychopaths, therefore, to heavily abuse alcohol and drugs.
Indeed, as Lewis and Buchholz convincingly demonstrated in 1991, psychopaths do abuse drugs and alcohol in an inordinate proportion. Still, only a negligible minority of alcoholics and drug addicts are psychopaths.
In my book, Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited, I have written, Pathologic Narcissism is an addiction to narcissistic supply. It is the narcissist drug of choice.
It is therefore not surprising that other addictive and reckless behaviors, alcoholism, alcoholism, drug abuse, pathological gambling, compulsory shopping, or retro-driving piggyback on this primary dependence.
Narcissist, like all other types of addicts, derives pleasure from these exploits, but they also sustain and enhance his grandiose fantasies as unique, superior, daring, entitled, or chosen. They place him above the laws and pressures of the mundane and away from the humiliating and sobering demands of reality.
This kind of behaviors, reckless, addictive, render the narcissist 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. They are a substitute to quotidian existence. They afford the narcissist with an agenda, with timetables, calls, schedules, and four achievements.
The narcissist, an adrenaline junkie, feels that he is in control, alert, excited, and vital. When he engages in these behaviors, when he pathologically gambles or recklessly drives, 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, which of course is not true.
In our attempt to decipher the human psyche, in itself a mere construct, not an ontological entity, we have come up with two answers.
The first one is that behaviors, moods, emotions, and cognitions are wholly reducible to biochemical reactions and neural pathways in the brain. This medicalization of what it is to be human is inevitably hotly contested and disputed.
The second answer is that behaviors, moods, emotions, and cognitions can be explained and predicted by the introduction of scientific theories based on primary concepts.
Psychoanalysis is an early and now widely disregarded and discarded example of such an approach to human affairs.
So the concepts of addiction and pathological narcissism were introduced in order to account for oft-recurring amalgams of behaviors, moods, emotions, and cognitions.
Both concepts are organizing, exegetic, explanatory principles with some predictive powers. Both concepts, pathological narcissism and addiction, hark back to Calvinist and Puritan strands of Protestantism where excess and compulsion considered to be inner demons were important topics of conversation.
Yet though clearly umbilically connected, as I've demonstrated elsewhere, addictive behaviors and narcissistic defenses also differ in some critical ways.
Consider the following.
When addicts engage in addictive behaviors, they seek to change the perception of their environment.
As the alcoholic Inspector Morse says, once he had consumed his single moths, the world looks a happier place.
Drugs make things look very colored, brighter, more hopeful, and fun-filled.
In contrast, the narcissist consumes, addictively, narcissistic supply, not in order to change his external environment or his perception of his external environment, but in order to change his inner universe.
Narcissists care little about the world out there, except as an ensemble of potential and actual sources of narcissistic supply. They don't give a fig about the universe, other people, or the environment.
Narcissist's drug of choice, attention, is geared to sustain his grandiose fantasies and senses of omnipotence and omniscience.
In other words, his addiction, the narcissist's addiction, is aimed at an internal process. It is aimed at regulating his sense of self-worth by consuming narcissistic supply.
Classical addiction, the drugs, alcohol, gambling, or other compulsive behaviors, classical addiction provides the addict with an exoskeleton, an external skeleton, boundaries, rituals, timetables, in order, in an otherwise chaotically disintegrating universe.
But it's not the same for the narcissist.
Admittedly, like the addict's search for gratification, the narcissist's pursuit of narcissistic supply is frenetic, compulsive, and ever-present.
Yet, unlike the addict's behavior, the narcissist's conduct is not structured, rigid, or ritualistic. On the very contrary, it is flexible. It's very inventive and creative.
Narcissism, in other words, is an adaptive behavior, albeit one that has outlived its usefulness.
Addiction is merely self-destructive and has no adaptive value or risen or redeeming features.
Finally, at heart, all addicts are self-destructive, self-defeating, self-loathing, and even suicidal. In other words, addicts are predominantly masochists.
Narcissists, in contrast, are sadists and paranoid. They lapse into masochism only when their narcissistic supply runs hopelessly dry.
The narcissist's masochism is aimed at restoring his sense of moral superiority as a self-sacrificial victim and to prod him into a renewed effort to reassert himself and hunt for new sources of narcissistic supply.
The addict's masochism is aimed at the self-destruction of the addict.
Thus, while the addict's brand of masochism is nihilistic and suicidal, the narcissist's masochism is about self-preservation and about prodding him into further attempts and efforts to obtain narcissistic supply.