Addiction in Children of Narcissistic Parents

Psychologists have found a link between narcissistic parents and addiction. The shaming and criticisms of a narcissistic parent can set children up for issues of self-worth, making them more likely to turn to drugs for comfort.  Find out how narcissistic parenting styles create the perfect environment for unhealthy habits in their children.

Addiction in Children of Narcissistic Parents


  • Children of narcissistic parents are more likely to experience addiction – to sex, love, alcohol, drugs and processes.
  • Narcissistic parenting styles cause a host of problems for children, often including substance abuse.

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. People with this disorder put their own emotional needs before those of others. To those who know them, they may come across as conceited or pretentious, belittle those they consider inferior or become angry and impatient if they do not get special treatment.

Underlying their overt behaviour, however, are secret feelings of insecurity, shame and vulnerability. To ward off these feelings when criticised, they may react with rage or contempt or manipulate the situation so others are to blame.

Narcissists tend not to see others as individuals, but as reflections of themselves, and can be extremely critical of their children.  This causes severe anxiety in kids who are constantly pushing their own personalities, wants and needs aside to serve those of their parents.

These childhood experiences can lead to a host of problems in adulthood, including emotional confusion, poor self-image, intimacy issues – and, often, substance abuse.  Many children of narcissists eventually require addiction treatment.

Using Drug or Alcohol to Cope with Trauma

Signs of a Narcissistic Parent

As narcissists are experts at manipulating and hiding their behaviour, and lack the ability to be self-aware about their narcissism, this complex disorder is a tricky one to detect.  Some common traits of a narcissistic parent are:

  • Attention-seeking

The family’s world revolves around the emotional needs of the narcissist.  Children are sources of attention and adoration, and relationships over which they have complete control.

  • Undermining

Narcissistic parents acknowledge their children’s accomplishments by taking credit for them.  If they cannot, the accomplishment is ignored or diminished.

  • Manipulation

These parents manipulate their kids’ emotions in order to feed on their pain, or feed their ‘narcissistic supply’.  This bizarre behaviour is so common that narcissistic mothers are often termed ‘emotional vampires’.

If the above statements ring true for you, you may have undergone the mistreatment of a parent with NPD – and as a result you could still be living with narcissistic injury today.

Addiction in Children of Narcissistic Parents

Narcissistic parenting can cause considerable emotional damage to their children, who lack the awareness to understand their parents’ behaviour as dysfunctional.  These kids, in turn, internalise their parents’ criticisms and devaluation, believing it is their fault or they are not good enough.  If they were, they would have been loved by that parent.

As adults, children of narcissistic parents may seek to fill this void by looking for love in unhealthy ways. Children of narcissistic parents are more likely to experience problems with addiction – to sex, love, alcohol, drugs and other addictive processes.  These are ways of self-medicating their feelings of inadequacy.

A family history of neglect and emotional abuse is common among addicts.  Dysfunctional family dynamics, such as parents who are egocentric, emotionally unavailable, uncaring or rigid in their parenting styles also negatively affect personality development. Symptoms include of narcissistic parenting include:

  • Low self-esteem, self-doubt
  • Chronic caregiving of others at a cost to your own well-being
  • A total disregard for your personal needs or self-care
  • An ongoing battle with depression or chronic anxiety
  • Nagging pessimism about the future or the world in general
  • Never trusting your own instincts and being constantly taken advantage of
  • Eating disorders
  • Sexual addictions or other sexual disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive behaviours
  • Abusive religious or romantic affiliations to take up where your pathological parents fell away
  • Problems with emotional intimacy or jumping from relationship to relationship, fearing abandonment or being alone
  • Substance abuse

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Adolescent Years: The Precursors of Addiction

Addictions are most commonly formed during adolescent years.  Narcissistic parents, unfortunately, can be so focused on their own lives that they miss the tell-tale signs of depression or drug abuse in their adolescent children.

It is important to note that drug use and drug abuse are not one and the same thing – many people experiment with drugs in their teen years without developing an unhealthy relationship of dependence. Experimenting is a normal part of growing up, but problems can arise when experimentation does not get nipped in the bud.

The teenage years are a sensitive time of navigating the development from childhood into adulthood. During this time, it is crucial that there is proper guidance and supervision in place. The narcissistic parent, being so caught up in their own story, fails to notice changes in their children’s behavior. Obvious red flags such as major changes in sleeping patterns, friends and academic performance go unnoticed.  Or if noticed the proper steps are not taken, instead the narcissist finds a way to make it all about them, thus allowing what could just be a phase to escalate into full-blown addiction.

The narcissist does not comprehend who their children truly are or what they are going through.  As their children are denied the full love and attention that is optimal for healthy development, this creates a predisposition towards addictive tendencies and a negative self-image that affects all aspects of life.

Seeking Therapy and Addiction Treatment

Although your parent’s narcissistic traits may have negatively impacted you, recovery is possible – it is about improving your life, not about judging your parent. If you feel as if you are self-sabotaging your relationships, career, success and future because of what you might not have gotten in your childhood, there is help and hope.

You do not have to be a slave to your past.  Contact us now and learn more about our effective treatment programming and arrange a confidential assessment.

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