Is He or She an Addict First? Or a Narcissist First?

If you are in a relationship with someone who struggles with addiction, and is a narcissist, you may find it difficult or impossible to figure out what, precisely, you should be doing, thinking, or feeling.

Let’s address the addiction first: It’s likely that your understanding of this individual’s addiction evolved over time because many addicts are very good at hiding their behavior. Once discovered, close friends may make an effort to see such addictive behaviors through the lens of the disease model, which requires empathy and understanding. It also calls on you, as a close partner, to be as supportive as possible to help a partner in his or her struggle to recover.

But what if you’ve come to realize that your partner is also a narcissist? Dealing with that recognition in a healthy way requires a different response than the one prompted by the disease model. In fact, empathy and support are actually not helpful in dealing with a narcissist.

Deep down, is every addict also a narcissist? And is every narcissist actually an addict? These are the difficult questions that the partner of a narcissist and addict has to explore and answer for him or herself.

The Link Between Addiction and Narcissism

“I feel as though the narcissist in my life actually enjoys the attention he receives at meetings and in counseling, and it makes him feel ‘special’ because he considers himself the worst-case scenario in his group.”

“It took me two years to discover that my husband was a closet alcoholic. I discovered it in the most banal way—by finding a cheap bottle of booze in his briefcase. He was drinking at the office. It took two more years for him to actually bottom out, losing his partnership in the process. He’d been going to meetings to placate me but didn’t have a sponsor, and didn’t participate. When he bottomed out, he started going to meetings in earnest—he got a sponsor and the whole nine yards. But with that apparent progress came other changes that were hard to ignore. He brushed aside my anger at having been lied to for years by saying, ‘All alcoholics lie,’ as if that fact excused his behavior. He liked the attention he got at meetings. The more his sobriety asserted itself, the clearer his narcissistic traits became. He never made amends to me, or anyone else. The storyline was one of justification. When I asked for a divorce, the narcissist was in full view.”

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