The Dangers of a Toxic Ego in Addiction and Recovery

The Dangers of a Toxic Ego in Addiction and Recovery

Addiction presents extraordinary challenges and evokes emotional reactions within a family struggling with a loved one’s substance abuse. For parents of children with a drug or alcohol addiction, this process is especially difficult. Many factors can make the recovery process easier or more strenuous, and a toxic ego often presents significant obstacles.

A toxic ego can make it impossible for a parent to recognize his or her child’s substance abuse issues and to address them honestly. A parent may be unwilling to recognize his or her role in the child’s addiction or acknowledge the behaviors that have allowed it to continue. A toxic ego can make it impossible to have honest discussions about the underlying causes of a loved one’s addiction.

Planning Intervention for a Child’s Substance Abuse

Intervention is a crucial step in any recovery process. It creates an opportunity for the friends and family of a person with a substance abuse problem to gather and tell him or her how the addiction has impacted their lives. This is a major turning point for most people struggling with addiction, and a positive and constructive intervention has a good chance of convincing them to enter treatment.

Planning an intervention is much easier with the help of a professional interventionist who can facilitate logistical issues, help plan the intervention, and offer coaching and guidance for discussing difficult topics. An interventionist can also act as a mediator for more constructive family discussions. Ego issues typically become apparent during the planning phase of an intervention. If a parent’s ego presents a barrier to recovery, the participants will inevitably need to address it.

Common Barriers to Intervention

Some people develop substance abuse as a way to cope with family trauma. Past grievances within a family can easily create tensions that boil over during conversations about substance abuse. Many of the defining characteristics of the human ego become negative influences in the intervention process. Arrogance prevents honest self-reflection; stubbornness inhibits healthy discussions, and unwillingness to accept personal responsibility ultimately conflicts with the intervention process. Parents of children struggling with substance abuse may need to acknowledge and confront their personal ego issues before real healing can happen.

How Ego Interrupts the Intervention Process

Ego presents significant challenges to any intervention. A parent who refuses to accept the fact that his or her enabling behaviors have allowed a child’s addiction to continue cannot offer constructive support during the intervention process. Overcoming addiction demands that negative influences be addressed. A parent shielding a child from the consequences of substance abuse only serves to maintain the addiction and increases the likelihood of long-term damage.

Ego may also cause some parents to simply shut down in response to a child’s substance abuse. A parent may be unwilling to accept that his or her child has an addiction. It can be difficult for some people to grasp that addiction does not discriminate based on social, economic, or cultural standing. Acknowledging that one’s child has an addiction may be too much for a parent’s ego.

Ego and Enabling

Parents of children struggling with substance abuse may simply refuse to acknowledge that the problem has escalated beyond the point of a bad habit and into a full-blown addiction. This can be an underlying cause for the enabling. The parent sees a child lose a job, struggle to pay bills, neglect his or her home and personal hygiene, among other seemingly “fixable” issues. The parent’s ego says that by fixing these problems, the parent is helping. In reality, the parent is helping the addiction to continue unabated.

A person struggling with substance abuse almost always needs to confront the consequences of his or her actions to gain the clarity needed to complete addiction treatment. This does not mean a parent should allow a child to hit rock-bottom before lending a hand. Rather, it means knowing the difference between actual constructive support and enabling. The ego makes it difficult for many parents to recognize this difference. This situation often requires a neutral third party to mediate the situation.

Ego Depletion

The ego influences intervention and recovery in other ways. Ego depletion occurs when a person’s sense of self-control becomes so diminished from substance abuse that trust is lost in his or her judgment. Ego depletion makes impulse control seem impossible, and it is essential to rebuild this aspect of the ego to create the motivation needed to complete treatment.

Tips for Intervention Success

Confronting personal toxic ego issues is the first essential step of any intervention process. The participants must be willing to self-examine and acknowledge past enabling behaviors and personal issues that may interfere with a loved one’s recovery. This is usually most difficult for parents who are unwilling or unable to recognize the roles they have played in their children’s addictions. These include past interactions and influences that led to substance abuse or enabling behaviors that allowed substance abuse to continue.

If a professional interventionist assists with a child’s intervention, he or she will invariably speak to the parents about any ego issues that surfaced during the planning phase of the intervention. These are difficult but necessary conversations. Even if a particular parent’s strong emotions seem insurmountable, it is crucial to emphasize function over passion. Parents must learn to put aside personal feelings, stop focusing on how the addiction has affected them personally, and shift focus to the child’s struggle.

How Big Is Your Ego?

Self-reflection can be difficult for anyone, but it is a requirement for a constructive intervention. Parents who enable their children’s addictions may need professional counseling or other services before they can helpfully contribute to the intervention. The Family First Intervention Ego Quiz can act as a stepping stone for some critical self-analysis to begin addressing ego issues before they interfere with substance abuse recovery.


Mike Loverde

As a Certified Intervention Professional (CIP), member of NAATP, NAADAC, and accredited by the Pennsylvania Certification Board, Mike Loverde knows first-hand what it’s like to live life with addiction. By overcoming it, he had a calling to work with others who struggle with drug and alcohol addictions—the people who use and the families who feel helpless watching them decay.

With thousands of interventions across the United States done and many more to come, Loverde continues to own the intervention space, since 2005, by working with medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists and others who need expert assistance for their patients who need intervention. To further his impact on behavioral health and maximize intervention effectiveness, Loverde is near completion of a Masters in Addiction Studies (MHS) accreditation, as well as a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor (LISAC), and is committed to attaining the designation of a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).

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