How Attachment Theory May Play A Role In Addiction and Behaviors

Addiction in Attachment Theory

There are a huge number of variables that can help determine the probability of a person becoming an addict. Recently there has been a good amount of research done in order to examine attachment theory and its relation to addiction. At its essence, attachment is the formation of an emotional bond with another person. The general understanding has become that improper bonding or attachment to the mother during early childhood highly increases the chance of a person developing pathologies that lead to addiction later in life.

It is extremely important that recovering addicts realize and understand the multitude of factors that contributed to their addiction so that they may address the issues of concern. As with many psychologically based principles, a rudimentary understanding of attachment theory can foster a sense of self-awareness allowing the addict to alter behavioral patterns. Although there is a biological component to attachment, the social manifestations are the main area of focus as this is where the possibility for change exists.

The reason the interaction between a child and their caregiver is of so much significance stems from the belief that this primary relationship has an effect on nearly all relationships that follow. In this school of thought the types of interactions that occur during attachment are categorized in four ways:

  • Secure – characterized by togetherness and a healthy dependence, the child is comforted and reassured by the caregiver’s presence
  • Ambivalent – results from unreliable availability on the part of the mother, even though the child has a desire for contact and comfort
  • Avoidant – Often the result of abuse or neglect, with the child showing no stronger preference for the parent than for a complete stranger, the child learns to be alone so as to avoid suffering at the hands of the caregiver
  • Disorganized/Fearful – Inconsistent attitude in the caregiver leads to a lack of any definitive attachment behavior, the child sees the parent as a confusing source of both reassurance and fear.

The methodology behind how attachment theory encourages substance abuse involves a cyclical pattern that would seemingly never stop unless intentionally intervened upon. This potential to ceaselessly influence ones behavior is part of the reason for the recent focus on attachment theory. The major elements of the pattern are as such:

  • Emotional trauma rooted in the lack of proper attachment due to a fearful, ambivalent, or avoidant interaction during the essential bonding period.
  • Difficult emotional responses involving anger and shame, resulting from the original trauma as well as reminders in the form of unsuccessful attempts at new relationships.
  • Engaging in self destructive (addictive) behavior to cope with the unbearable feelings and emotions triggered by the effects of the remembered trauma.
  • Substance abuse and other problematic behavior affecting all current relationships, causing them to become a source of further trauma as a result of coinciding attachment issues.

Once this behavioral vortex begins, the only way for an addict to regain control is to interrupt the pattern. Essentially, the only way that can happen is by removing the use of addictive substances as a coping mechanism. Once the addict begins recovery, healthy relationships can form that allow for a healing process to begin in terms of the original attachment trauma. The pattern then transforms into one which revolves around healthy relationships promoting healthy behavior, leading the addict into a world of positive attachment.

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