Narcissism and alcohol abuse often go hand in hand – narcissists can be alcoholics, and alcoholics can be narcissists (but not always). Therefore if you’re personally tangled up with a narcissist who also abuses alcohol, it’s natural and normal to wonder whether they would get better if they stopped drinking.
Which leads on the next logical question of whether it’s worth pleading with a narcissist to give up drinking in the hope it will help improve their condition and lessen a lot of the obnoxious, abusive behavior that comes with it.
We hate to be kill-joys here, but it’s best not to hold out high hopes of this. Here’s a quick summary answer, which we’ll expand upon in the rest of this article:
If a narcissist stopped drinking solely for self serving purposes with no wider inner work or conscious effort to change, their behavior would not improve and may even worsen. To create lasting change in a narcissist, abstinence from alcohol would need to also be accompanied by a long term, thorough and conscientious commitment to changing all aspects of their character and life, which almost never happens with full blown narcissists.
In many models of personality, trauma and identity, addiction is really only one of the superficial and outer-most layers that needs peeling back to really get to the core of why a person is the way they are. Far more critical to the formation of personality (especially personality disorders) is unresolved trauma from childhood, which is many layers further down and takes a lot longer to work through than solely addictions and dependencies.
Put differently, for any person who has addictions driven by unresolved trauma, stopping the addictive acting out behavior is really only the very first, and in a way most superficial, step in full recovery. And for deeply, ingrained, severe personality disorders like full blown narcissism (NDP), this is even more true than normal.
Without a humble, committed and sincere effort from a narcissist to change themselves at a core level (such as going through a 12 step program), of which stopping drinking is only a very tentative first step, you cannot expect a narcissist to improve. In fact, specifically in the case of alcohol dependency, a narcissist may get worse if they stop drinking, which is the first issue we’ll turn to now.
A Narcissist’s Behavior May Get Worse If They Stop Drinking
This is actually the most important thing to be aware of if you’re someone that’s going to be around the narcissist. If they only stop drinking without doing any deeper work on themselves, their obnoxious, abusive behaviors may get WORSE, not better, after they stop drinking.
The main reason reason for this is something we touched on in the main article on narcissistic supply – alcohol can act as a low level form of narcissistic supply. In other words, once it’s ingrained into their life, then a narcissist’s drinking, even if dysfunctional from a health standpoint, can actually mitigate and keep at bay some of the worst aspects of their narcissism.
Therefore, cutting this low level source of supply off can actually make their behavior towards others worse – as we all know very well what happens when a narcissist loses their supply. They can become very obnoxious and start attacking others in an attempt to “re-inflate” themselves.
Here are some common examples of where this outcome is more likely:
- They stop drinking only because of practical health reasons (they would start to suffer severe consequences or even death if they carried on, or already have got health issues)
- They stop drinking, but purely as a strategic method or out of convenience (saves them money).
- In some narcissists, there might be the smallest part of themselves that on some level sees their own dysfunction and toxicity, and “tries” quitting alcohol to see what happens (without any deeper work, they’d quickly get bored and irritated and either resume drinking or replace it with another addiction).
- They stop drinking only as a fake gesture to either get you back if you broke up with them, or to stop you doing so (narcissists can’t be made to change in this way)
- They stop drinking but make zero wider changes to their personality or lifestyle, including how they relate to and treat others. They stop drinking for their own self serving reasons and that’s all they do.
- Even if their abstinence is successful, there is zero evidence of any deeper level introspection, growth or self reflection going on.
This is not merely conjecture – more observant ex partners of narcissists have noted this about their toxic behaviors – they actually became worse, not better, once they stopped drinking. See here for a very clear account of this from a survivor, who recounts how her ex’s abusive behavior was at it’s worst once he stopped drinking. There was nothing to keep the most appalling aspects of his personality at bay any more.
If you have ears to listen, you will also sometimes find that narcissists who abuse alcohol will even admit this about themselves, perhaps even accidentally, not even realizing what they are revealing.
I had my own experience of this during the lockdowns of 2020 – it’s now well known how much these policies irritated many narcissists by starving them of the supply and attention they needed (often feeding off the attention and adulation of others). One narcissist ex colleague I had recounted how he got into a mini argument with shop staff about whether alcohol was considered “essential” or not and therefore could be sold. He then recalled how he felt like saying to the shop assistant ‘well, alcohol is essential to me, cos without it, I’d be tearing the walls down, and you wouldn’t wanna be dealing with me in that state’. And then quickly changed the subject. This is someone who was already obnoxious and prone to “flipping out” at the best of times, but he was basically admitting that he’d be much worse without being able to drink.
This admission made more sense to me about a year or so later when I understood narcissistic supply better, and how alcohol can be a low grade form of it. Taking it away from narcissists is often NOT a good idea, if there’s zero real drive from them to do any deeper work (which there almost always isn’t). You’re actually better leaving them as they are, especially if you have to deal with them person to person a lot.
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The Circumstances Required For A Narcissist To Get Better (Alongside Abstinence)
If stopping drinking alone will not cure a narcissist’s disorder, and often won’t even make them any better at all, then what is required to fix this personality disorder?
Even the most generous interpretation one could give to this issue requires a lot more than just quitting drinking for a narcissist to truly get better and change at a core level.
Assuming the narcissist did permanently abstain from alcohol, here’s what else would be required (all long term commitments over many years, not weeks or months):
- Undergoing many years (not weeks or months) of intensive psychotherapy, with a skilled therapist well trained in personality disorders.
- Going through an intensive 12 step recovery program for addiction (a thorough and prolonged effort, not just turning up to a few group meetings), usually in conjunction with the therapy mentioned in the above step.
- Facing criminal charges and/or incarceration which exposes them and breaks down their narcissistic image for all the public to see.
- Any other environment where they are exposed or “found out” and cannot escape to new people.
- Any other huge life upheaval which forces them to confront their personality defects over a prolonged period of time (years), not just in a fleeting and superficial way.
Using this criteria, you can see why narcissists so rarely ever change on a true core level – they can’t and won’t do the work required. Most of the time when a narcissist stops drinking, it’s self serving and manipulative (to try and convince someone else they’ve changed when they haven’t), or they’re trying to prolong their life. Rarely is their abstinence part of a sincere wider effort to grow and change, and it’s important to remain realistic about this.
Should You Confront A Narcissist About Their Drinking? (And Ask Them To Stop)
If you’re living with, caring for, or interacting regularly with a narcissist who’s also abusing alcohol, it’s natural and understandable that more compassionate people would consider confronting them about their issue and asking them to stop.
But it should go without saying at this point that this is most often NOT a good idea. Not only do narcissists almost never change their behavior and underlying personality, but they can’t be made to authentically change either by pleading, remonstration or threats to leave if they don’t stop.
Sometimes, when confronted with hard evidence from a doctor (such as that they will die in X months/years if they continue like this), they MAY stop for self serving purposes. But even in these instances, some narcissists are so stubborn and stuck in denial and an “I do it my way” mindset that they still don’t stop their behaviors and effectively drink themselves to death.
Therefore a narcissist almost always has to hit “rock bottom” and come to the realization themselves that they need to stop drinking. And even then, unless they committed to a full recovery and upheaval of their life, they’d either get worse or pivot to another addiction like gambling or sex. These people aren’t going to change on a core level, especially once they’re in middle age and their personality style is deeply ingrained.
If you’re in an abusive relationship with an alcoholic narcissist, then the best approach in almost all cases is to leave if can (if you can’t because of children, then discuss with a trusted therapist or counsellor the best approach, and also see our help guide). But leave because of the abusive behavior, not the drinking per se, because stopping the drinking in most cases won’t stop the abusive behavior and may often make it worse as we covered above.
And never let them “hoover” you back in with promises that they’ve stopped drinking and have changed. As we covered above, for a narcissist to really change requires re-building themselves from the ground up in a process that takes years. Just quitting drink makes no difference when you’re dealing with full blown NPD – it’s only the very start of the process and doesn’t prove anything if no deeper inner work is going on.
Therefore it’s advised not to be overly distracted by a narcissist’s drinking, thinking that “if only” that one issued was resolved, everything would be fine. Because with NPD, it won’t. Drinking is really only a surface level issue layered on top of pathological personality disorders, and much deeper work is needed to fix them than just going sober for a while.