The Dangers of a Toxic Ego in Addiction and Recovery

The Dangers of a Toxic Ego in Addiction and Recovery

Addiction leads to strong emotions within a family and struggling with any loved one’s substance abuse can be an extraordinary challenge. For parents of children struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, this process is especially difficult. Many factors can lead to an easier or more strenuous recovery, 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 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. Toxic ego can also 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 better chance of pushing them to enter treatment.

Planning an intervention is much easier with the help of a professional interventionist; he or she can not only facilitate logistical issues and help plan the intervention but also offer coaching or guidance for discussing difficult topics. An interventionist can also act as a mediator for more constructive family discussions. Ego issues typically become more 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 to cope with family trauma. Past grievances within a family can easily create tensions that boil over into conversations about substance abuse. Most of the defining characteristics of the human ego are 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 any real healing can happen.

How Ego Interrupts the Intervention Process

Ego presents significant challenges to any intervention process. A parent who refuses to accept the fact that his or her enabling behaviors have allowed a child’s addiction to continue cannot offer any constructive support during the intervention process. Overcoming addiction demands addressing negative influences. A parent shielding his or her child from the consequences of substance abuse only maintains 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 issues. A parent may feel unwilling to accept that his or her child has an addiction. It can be difficult for some people to grasp the fact that addiction does not discriminate based on social, economic, or cultural standing. Simply accepting the fact 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 a child’s problem has escalated beyond the point of a simple bad habit and into a full-blown addiction. This can be an underlying reason for enabling. The parent sees a child lose a job, struggle to pay bills, neglect his or her home and personal hygiene, and other seemingly “fixable” issues. The parent’s ego says that by fixing these problems, the parent is helping. In reality, the parent is simply helping the addiction continue unabated.

A person struggling with substance abuse almost always needs to experience 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; it means knowing the difference between actual constructive support and enabling. The ego makes it difficult for many parents to recognize this difference. This scenario often requires a neutral third party to help mediate the situation.

Ego Depletion

The ego influences intervention and recovery in other ways, sometimes affecting the individual with addiction. Ego depletion occurs when a person’s sense of self-control becomes so diminished from substance abuse that he or she no longer knows when to trust him or herself. Ego depletion makes impulse control feel impossible, and it is essential to rebuild this aspect of the ego to create the drive to complete treatment.

Tips for Intervention Success

Confronting personal toxic ego issues is the first essential step of any intervention process. The participants in the intervention 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, either through 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 he or she notices throughout the planning phase of the intervention. These are difficult but necessary conversations. Even if a parent’s strong emotions seem insurmountable, it is crucial to emphasize function over passion. The parent must learn to put aside his or her personal feelings and stop focusing on how the addiction has affected him or her 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 their children’s interventions. The Family First Intervention Ego Quiz can act as a stepping stone for some critical self-analysis to start 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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