Toxic People in Recovery? What to Do about It

There are a number of ways that people can be toxic to your ability to grow and thrive in recovery. Whether they are actively impeding your ability to stay sober or covertly attempting to manipulate you into doing what’s best for them instead of what’s best for you, maintaining these relationships can make it difficult to keep your emotions balanced and your mind on recovery.

Narcissism or narcissist behaviors are exceptionally common among people who may have enabled your addiction in the past and those who live in active addiction. As you launch into recovery and begin to explore what is healthy and what is not in terms of interpersonal connection and relationships, you may begin to see some toxic narcissistic behaviors in the people you love – and potentially in yourself as well.

What Is Narcissism?

A narcissistic personality disorder is defined by someone who has a distorted view of themselves, a deep need to be seen by others as amazing in all things, and the ability to go to great lengths to “punish” those who do not want to serve their agenda or buy into their version of how the world should work, even if their view of things can be shown to be false or harmful to others.

Those living with a narcissist personality disorder prioritize their needs above the needs of others. The needs of children, a spouse, coworkers, and loved ones and friends are never prioritized unless the narcissist believes that doing so will either serve them as well or help them to later manipulate and control the person.

Why Are Narcissistic Traits Common among People in Recovery?

When living in active addiction, the focus is on the self: how to get more drugs, how to use drugs without having to deal with law enforcement or disapproving friends and loved ones, and how to stay high and avoid withdrawal symptoms at all costs. There is little to no empathy for anyone else’s needs or feelings. The focus is solely on what others can do to help them stay high.

If guilt or shame seeps in, as with narcissism, the response is usually to get high again so the feelings go away. In recovery, when getting high is not an option for dealing with harm done to others, feelings of loss or guilt, or embarrassment or anger at being exposed as a person with problems, the result can be narcissistic revenge and manipulation behaviors.

Is a Narcissist Manipulating You in Recovery?

People in recovery are encouraged to spend time and make connections with others in recovery. While this is a necessary part of growing and learning more about yourself and others, it also inherently means exposure to people who engage in toxic behaviors. If you are not actively working on staying healthy, holding yourself accountable for your part in problems that crop up in your life, and ensuring that the people around you want the best for you as well as for themselves, then you may inadvertently find yourself absorbed with the day-to-day drama that is par for the course when dealing with a narcissist.

Also, remember that as someone in recovery who previously exhibited narcissistic behaviors during active addiction, you may have the propensity to exhibit toxic behaviors yourself. The more you know about healthy relationships and what they look like, the more capable you will be of identifying narcissistic and unhelpful behaviors in yourself and the people around you.

Is Narcissism Threatening Your Recovery?

Whether you, a family member, a romantic partner, or a friend is exhibiting narcissistic tendencies, it can deeply impact your ability to stay sober. Recovery is all about getting comfortable with yourself, recognizing both your true abilities and your flaws, and avoiding judgment of others and yourself. Narcissism won’t allow for this genuine and continual process. Rather, the focus is on manipulation in order to maintain a façade that serves no one, including the person who feels that is vital. Getting caught up in personal dramas puts you on a roller coaster of self-doubt and anxiety that will only knock you down in recovery and increase your risk of relapse.

Need some help getting back on track? You are not alone. Take the initiative and put your true best interest in front of the needs of others or your perceived needs that are only holding you back.

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