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When the Narcissist is an Addict

Updated: Sep 17, 2023

Content Note: Mentions parental abuse; trauma; dissociation

"Addiction - When you can give up something any time, as long as it's next Tuesday."


You've landed the mother lode.  It's a largely high anxiety experience and you are likely to be in a state of chronic stress.

In many ways it's easier, because you have a label/certain expectations/a state of awareness about the narcissist.  You may have engaged in maladaptive behaviours to manage your own distress and it is important that you take responsibility for this,  With the addict, however, matters got out of hand and their lives became unmanageable.

They never intended to become an addict but it happened. They are are broken in their own way and this is not the place to speculate as to how they find peace. Our work here is to keep you safe and manage your way out of the darkness. If you are both drowning , one of you will get pushed under.

Terrifying as it might feel, ending the relationship/contact/involvement may be your only option. Whether this be your child, parent, partner - whomever - it's a brutal decision you are forced to make. If you don't get away from this situation, you are likely to end up in a race to the bottom. If you cannot physically escape, do everything in your power to emotionally, psychologically and spiritually detach.

There's a lot going on here so let me take it step by step. Generally speaking, not all narcissists are addicts but more learned colleagues than I suggest that addicts are narcissists.

If you have a addict in (recovery is on a continuum?) your life, your mental health will be compromised beyond measure. They will cheat, lie and gaslight you. They are likely to be fiscally irresponsible but their money worries are never their fault.  You know they are not telling the truth but are worn out trying to get it from them.

You will be concerned about their secretive behaviour. They will say you are imagining things and then when you provide hard evidence they will become narcissistically enraged and it may become physical. If this is the case - call the police - immediately. It may be your parent, partner or child but you cannot and must not tolerate this type of abuse.

Alternatively, when you discover they have been lying to you they may become contrite and an exquisite confession results. Then they cry (not really) . And you cry (really). And you hold each other, and you choose to believe the promise that it will never happen again.  Addicts have no regard for promises.  They are a device, a reference to some moral standard that they have do not recognise.  But you believe and are temporarily assured and in that moment feel sure that IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN.

Until it does. And you still don't leave. At this point they know that you are trauma bonded and unlikely to go in a hurry. You may be financially dependent on them or have children with them or have no where to go, no friends to turn to and this becomes the dance. Alternatively,  you simply, hopefully, believe that they mean what they say - that this time will be different. You may also feel responsible for them (if I leave they will use/kill themselves/not cope). Please know that you are in no way responsible for the decisions they make - whatever they say to the contrary. At some point in your own recovery you may wish to explore your sense of responsibility for others.

It is highly likely that somewhere along the line they begin to seek fresh supply and even if they are no longer abusing drugs or alcohol or prescription medication, it may be that porn or gambling or transactional sex or office affairs, spending or other compulsive behaviours take them away from you. They are stimulated by the drama and chaos they create and aroused by the secrets they are keeping from you.

When you ask them to look at you and relate, to have a conversation, they cannot do it. They cannot tolerate intimacy. It may be that you see them - truly see them - and if there is one thing a narcissist cannot stand, it is being "seen".

Exposed for what they really are, the mask slipped, you will be accused of cheating. stealing, using, called - ugly, useless, thin/fat, stupid, sick, crazy, psychotic, deluded, hated, pointless, a waste of a life and the rest. The profanities you hear assault you on a visceral level and are a stark contrast to the sweet words of adoration, caring and love uttered in the early days.

They project their dysfunctional behaviours onto you. Abusive language and treatment is normalized and tolerated because your addict is "struggling" with their illness. You may mirror them in this indignity. This is hell on earth.

Your life is lived in chronic stress mode just waiting for the next shocking discovery (read Bessel van der Kolk and Gabor Mate for understanding these effects). Your heart will beat so fast that it hurts. You know nothing is as it appears. You love your narcissist and believe there is so much more to them than their addiction.

What you see in their eyes is a dark place - they have left you. They will put their head in their hands and speak about their shame and suffering and it is palpable because you have internalised it. You feel so, so sad for them. You try to make them better. I'm sorry to tell you this but you can't. They are on their own journey in their own time.

Any 12 Step programme reminds us that the "disease" of addiction is "cunning, baffling and powerful". You cannot love your addict/narcissist, better. Compassion is interpreted as weakness and forgiveness results in contempt.

You may neglect your children, parents, partner, work and qwn health. You will be depleted; traumatised into your own mental illness. You may rely on denial and dissociation as coping strategies - the reality, unbearable.

You may behave in ways you never imagined and loathe yourself for doing so. On some level you may believe you deserve this life, after all, look at how you are behaving. Your world shrinks and only you and the addict exist.

Except you no longer exist. Your very being consumed with concern about your narcissist/addict. You are being spiritually, emotionally and psychologically, cannibalised. There is no imagery too emotive to describe what my clients report to me.

Children of addicts/narcissists have it so much worse and need specialised therapeutic support. They love their parent (s) and do not want to believe that their parent would rather binge eat or starve than feed them, that their college fund has been used for supply or gambled away and the child desperately wants to believe that this time they will get clean or stop eating compulsively and turn up to their soccer practice.

It's utterly heartbreaking and whilst this behaviour is soul destroying it is hard for a child not to find a way to love their parent. To those of you in this situation please find support where you can - at school, college or employer counsellling services. Learn about what has happened to you. Organisations such as AlAnon; AlAteen; DrugFAM and CODA (see resources) provide insight and psychoeducation.

I'll leave it there. Step away from the addict. Get support, gain insight, get well.

You're stronger than you think.


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