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The 12 Steps: An Antidote For Celebrities And Other Narcissistic Addicts

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I'm a big fan of Dr. Drew. As I mention in my book, The 12-Step Buddhist, it was his description of the carbon copy pothead turned meth addict on the popular radio show Loveline, with Adam Carolla that helped convince me that I was in big trouble. I badly needed to return to recovery after relapsing with almost 10 years of "clean time." Dr. Drew's advice then, and now, is unique among medical professionals. He has both good heart and great skill in dealing comprehensively with addiction.

After two seasons of Celebrity Rehab and another of Sober House, VH1 put out a program called VH1 News Presents: Dr. Drew's Celebrity Addiction Special that they claim, "examines the root causes of celebrity addiction, the reasons behind the rise and why Hollywood is one of the toughest places to get clean."

The show discussed not so successful celebrity narcissist addicts such as Amy Winehouse, Steve O, Lindsay Lohan, Heath Ledger, Celebrity Rehab participants Seth "Shifty" Binzer and Mary Carey. On the winning side were Jack Osbourne, Craig Ferguson, Tom Arnold and Robert Downy Jr. who are all currently clean and sober. I consider myself an expert on addiction but I learned a couple of things watching that special which I'd like to explore further here in my first blog for the Huffington Post.

Dr. Drew mentioned a study called "Narcissism and Celebrity," which he published in the Journal of Research in Personality. This was the first study to explore the topic of narcissism in celebrity addicts. His findings were:

"That celebrities are significantly more narcissistic than MBA students and the general population. Contrary to findings in the population at large, in which men are more narcissistic than women, female celebrities were found to be significantly more narcissistic than their male counterparts.

Reality television personalities had the highest overall scores on the NPI (Narcissistic Personality Inventory -- take the test yourself), followed by comedians, actors, and musicians. Further, our analyses fail to show any relationship between NPI scores and years of experience in the entertainment industry, suggesting that celebrities may have narcissistic tendencies prior to entering the industry."

So what is a narcissist? The NPI scores along the following dimensions, called component traits:

• Authority

• Self-sufficiency

• Superiority

• Exhibitionism

• Exploitativeness

• Vanity

• Entitlement

It's important to understand that the results of a test like this can vary depending on factors such as mood, life events, if the test-taker is in crisis. If you score high remember that a test like this is not meant to be taken alone as a definitive measure. And just because someone is a narcissist doesn't mean they're going to be a celebrity or even successful. In fact, it doesn't mean they're even outgoing. Some narcissists are silent, scary types who secretly feel superior to everyone. But it doesn't mean they're going to go postal either. The term is one way among many to describe an aspect of personality. That said, it is interesting to consider.

The term narcissism is defined as excessive love or admiration of oneself or a psychological condition characterized by self-preoccupation, lack of empathy, and unconscious deficits in self-esteem. There is healthy narcissism, such as the belief that one can achieve one's goals in life, the recognition of healthy qualities, and acknowledgment of one's unique set of talents. On the other end of the continuum is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

DSM IV-TR Criteria 1

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love (megalomania)
  • Believes they are "special" and can only be understood by, or should associate with, people (or institutions) who are also "special" or of high status
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Has a sense of entitlement
  • Is interpersonally exploitative
  • Lacks empathy
  • Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her
  • Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

NPD as described above is not in itself sufficient to diagnose and treat individuals in therapy. Some clinicians believe that the DSM-IV itself can be overused and misapplied. They question the validity of using the DSM exclusively and feel that there is no substitute for getting to know a patient to determine the nature of their problem and the best course of action. Others work with an integrated approach, cautiously using the DSM criteria, scales such as the NPI along with personal experience over time on a case-by-case basis.

How does this apply to addiction? In our 12-Step literature, it's said that selfishness and self-centeredness is the root of our problem. Anyone who knows an addict knows how narcissistic we can be. My guess would be that addicts in general would score higher on the NPI than non-addicts. So what's the solution? I disagree with one of the experts on the Dr. Drew special who claims that other therapies are "just as effective as 12-Step." Dr. Drew's expert was I feel somewhat misleading when he made this statement. For that matter, I'd like to see if he could provide some hard empirical data to back up his statement.

I believe that nothing is as effective for cutting through the self-centered, narcissistic ego of the addict as the 12 Step program. As I discuss in the 12-Step Buddhist, however, a comprehensive, multifaceted approach to recovery, which includes individual and group therapy, possibly medication, physical activities, meditation and regular community based service work has been more effective than the 12 Steps alone. At least it has been in my own case and in the cases of those with whom I work to ensure long lasting, spiritual sobriety.

To be clear, we should define effective. In government studies effectiveness is often defined as a reduction in episodes and/or consequences of drinking and other addictive behaviors. In the 12-Step model, we define effectiveness as total abstinence from any mind-altering substances. (No, we don't include coffee. When's the last time somebody was arrested for driving under the influence of Starbuck's?)

In future blogs I will go into some detail as to exactly how the 12 Steps work as an antidote to narcissism, be it in the celebrity or the common addict. I'll provide specific exercises that you can use to put these ideas to the test.

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