Healthy Boundaries with an Alcoholic Narcissist

Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

Setting Healthy Boundaries with an Alcoholic Narcissist

Table of Contents

Having a relationship with an alcoholic or a narcissist can be emotionally taxing and disruptive to one’s life; trying to navigate a relationship with someone who suffers from both alcoholism and narcissism can at times feel impossible. In order to minimize the negative effect the behaviors of an alcoholic narcissist have on your life, it is essential to establish firm boundaries. 

It can be difficult to diagnose co-occurring disorders largely because the two existing conditions can have many overlapping symptoms. This makes differentiating between the disorder difficult. Someone experiencing both alcoholism and narcissism will oftentimes exhibit a lack of self-awareness or will refuse to take responsibility for their action. With disorders such as these that are so similar, many symptoms seem exacerbated, making it very difficult to remain in a healthy relationship with an individual suffering from both disorders.

Are Alcoholics Narcissists?

There is a lot of debate about whether alcoholics are narcissists. Some say that alcoholics are narcissists and others say that they are not. There is no clear answer to this question as there are many different opinions on the subject.

The first thing we should do is define what an alcoholic is and what a narcissist is. An alcoholic can be defined as someone who has an addiction to alcohol, while a narcissist can be defined as someone who has an inflated sense of their own importance.

The reason why people believe alcoholics may be narcissists is that they believe that those who abuse alcohol have low self-esteem and don’t feel good about themselves, so they turn to drink in order to feel better about themselves or just forget their problems for a while.

Alcoholism is a progressive brain disease that is characterized by chemical and psychological dependence on alcohol. This dependence can result in unemployment and strains on relationships. Similarly, individuals with a narcissistic personality disorder also struggle with maintaining relationships due to incorrect perceptions about their life and how people view them as well as being unconcerned about how their actions affect others. Individuals with both of these disorders, especially when operating together, oftentimes negatively impact the ones around them due to their manipulative, arrogant, and unempathetic behavior. 

Setting Boundaries

Boundaries are essential in developing healthy relationships; especially if the person you are interacting with is an alcoholic narcissist. If restrictions are weak, you risk compromising your own safety and losing your freedom and personal space. Many boundaries established with a narcissist are also necessary with alcoholics, however, with alcoholic narcissists some more specific restrictions often also have to be implemented.

Setting Boundaries with an Alcoholic

The ways in which addiction affects each relationship can differ, however, the following restrictions are a good place to start in deciding how to set boundaries with an addicted loved one and in regaining control over your life:

  1. “No alcohol is allowed around me”.
  1. “No alcohol-using friends are allowed in the house”. 
  1. “I will not give you money to pay bills, etc”. 

These three statements are a good place to start when beginning to establish boundaries with an addicted loved one. As time progresses, you will begin adding and altering these rules to better fit your specific situation.

Boundaries with an Alcoholic Narcissist

Setting boundaries with an alcoholic is further complicated when the alcoholic also has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Narcissists lack empathy for how their actions affect others’ and feel entitled to use other people. This means setting boundaries is difficult, but necessary. Luckily, most of these are applicable both for a narcissist and for alcoholics as well. The following are some ways in which you can begin to set rules with a loved one who is both a narcissist and an alcoholic:

  1. Don’t justify, explain, or defend yourself.

Narcissists, as well as narcissistic alcoholics, use intimidation and ridicule to make others second-guess themselves. By not showing any discomfort or giving in to their intimidation tactics, you remove their power. Ways in which you can work on this is by sharing less information about yourself that the individual can use against you; this is especially important with an alcoholic narcissist as they are often very manipulative. The more information the individual has, the easier it is for them to manipulate you.

  1. Leave when it doesn’t feel healthy.

You do not need anyone’s permission to leave an unhealthy or toxic interaction. To leave potentially unsafe or compromising situations, you can say something like, “look at the time, I’m late”. Your phone can also be helpful in pretending to receive a call so you can excuse yourself. If you are comfortable in being more direct, you can confront the unhealthy treatment by saying, “I’m going to excuse myself. We can discuss this when you are ready to speak constructively”.

  1. Decide what you will tolerate and what you won’t.

When interacting with an alcoholic narcissist, it is necessary to know when to say “no”. You must ask yourself what you are willing to accept from them and what you are not. For instance, you can state, “if you continue to insult me I will not entertain this conversation until you can treat me with respect”. This indicates to the individual that you are not willing to accept being treated with disrespect and you will not engage in any degrading conversations.

  1. Learn to sidestep intrusive questions or negative comments.

Being able to side-step away from negative comments and intrusive questions is necessary in protecting your personal information and mental wellbeing. One way you can avoid answering unwanted questions and engaging in destructive conversations is through shifting the topic to something the individual enjoys talking about. Due to a narcissist’s inflated sense of self, they most likely will not protest discussing something of interest to them or engaging in a conversation that highlights their strengths. By doing this, you avoid answering any intrusive questions or responding to any negative comments without starting an argument and escalating the conversation.

Leaving an Alcoholic Narcissist

If you’re leaving an alcoholic narcissist, there are some things you need to know. First and foremost, leaving an abusive relationship is never easy. It’s going to be a long and difficult process, but it’s one that you can do. Here are some tips to help you get through it:

  1. Get support from friends and family.
  2. See a therapist help you deal with the emotional fallout of the abuse.
  3. Create a solid support system for yourself. This could include going to 12-step meetings or finding a therapist who specializes in helping people leave abusive relationships.
  4. Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. This means eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising.
  5. Be patient with yourself. The healing process takes time and there will be good days and bad days.
  6. Reach out for help when you need it. There are many resources available to help you leave an abusive relationship. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Leaving an alcoholic narcissist is never easy, but it’s possible. With the right support, you can get through this tough time and start rebuilding your life.

Through setting these boundaries, along with those specific to alcoholism, you will begin to regain control over your life and improve your relationship. With practice, setting these will become easier and, hopefully, the individual will begin to respect the rules you have established.

Read Further

Alcoholic Relationship: How Addiction Affects Relationship

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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