Understanding the Connection Between Addiction and Attachment Styles

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Understanding the Connection Between Addiction and Attachment Styles

A combination of factors increases an individual’s risk of engaging in alcohol and drug use – as well as developing substance use disorder (SUD) and addiction – throughout their life. There are well-known risk factors for addiction, such as untreated trauma, early exposure to substance abuse, and genetic vulnerabilities. Yet, risk factors are often left under-discussed, such as an individual’s unique attachment style. Meanwhile, understanding attachment styles, as well as the inherent link between addiction and attachment styles, can serve as a protective factor against SUD as well as motivate treatment entry and recovery for those who are struggling. 

At Avalon Malibu, we recognize that there are endless risk factors that can make individuals vulnerable to the development of addiction and other mental health disorders in their lives. Yet, some factors tend to have greater influence than others. There are many different perspectives that individuals can use to better understand their personal addiction risk, with attachment styles being one of them. Meanwhile, for additional guidance and support in beginning recovery, do not hesitate to reach out to us today. 

Addiction and Attachment Theory

Attachment theory explains that the quality of emotional bonds (attachment) we share throughout our lives originate in the earliest bonds we form with our caregivers as infants. As said in Paediatrics & Child Health, “The quality of attachment that an infant develops with a specific caregiver is largely determined by the caregiver’s response to the infant when the infant’s attachment system is ‘activated.'” 

Continuing, “Beginning at approximately six months of age, infants come to anticipate specific caregivers’ responses to their distress and shape their own behaviours accordingly . . . based on daily interactions with their specific caregivers.” Specific factors that can determine an individual’s infant-parent attachment style include:

  • How involved a caregiver is in the infant’s life
  • The quality of a caregiver’s attentiveness to the infant’s needs
  • How responsive a caregiver is to the infant’s needs
  • The level of affection that a caregiver shares with the infant

Meanwhile, the journal also highlights, “The quality of the infant-parent attachment is a powerful predictor of a child’s later social and emotional outcome.” As many can assume, the weaker the consistency in attentiveness and affection that a caregiver has with an infant, the greater their addiction risk. With these impairments in attachment, individuals are more likely to engage in alcohol and drug use in an attempt to cope and make sense of their interpersonal challenges.

Addiction and Attachment: The Four Attachment Styles

According to the journal mentioned above, attachment theory identifies four types of infant-parent attachment: secure attachment, avoidant attachment, resistant attachment, and disorganized attachment. Learning more about each of these attachment styles, including how they develop as well as how they may show up later in life, can be especially helpful for navigating addiction risk and recovery. Brief descriptions of each of these attachment styles are provided below.

Secure Attachment

Feelings of trust and safety in interpersonal relationships characterize this ideal attachment style. Secure attachment is established when a caregiver provides consistent affection and involvement during infancy and is attentive to the infant’s needs. 

Avoidant Attachment

This insecure yet organized attachment style is characterized by emotional detachment, over-independence, and a fear of commitment. Avoidant attachment is established when a caregiver is not responsive or attentive to an infant’s needs, causing a child to disregard their own needs and experiences. 

Resistant Attachment

This is another insecure yet organized attachment style characterized by dismissive behavior and disinterest in interpersonal relationships. Resistant attachment is established when a caregiver is both insensitive and inconsistent in meeting an infant’s needs. 

Disorganized Attachment

This insecure and disorganized attachment style is characterized by unpredictable behavior toward others, ambivalence in interpersonal relationships, and ongoing difficulties with emotional regulation. Disorganized attachment is established when a caregiver is both unpredictable and inconsistent and is often a source of fear for an infant. 

Linking Addiction and Attachment Styles

As explained in Substance Use & Misuse, “Research has repeatedly found that those with stronger social support networks remain in treatment longer and have better recovery outcomes with a decreased likelihood of return to use.” However, it is necessary to recognize that their unique attachment style can greatly influence the quality of an individual’s social support systems. 

Compared to those with a secure attachment style, those with insecure attachment styles experience an increased risk of engaging in alcohol and other drug use as well as developing addiction. Additionally, these individuals may also experience a greater risk of relapse throughout long-term recovery. 

Those with insecure attachment styles need not be discouraged, however. Fortunately, there are ways to overcome insecure attachment throughout addiction recovery. Some strategies to overcome addiction and attachment together in tandem include:

  • Developing awareness of insecure patterns of attachment by practicing mindfulness
  • Challenging feelings of emotional resistance or detachment when they surface
  • Taking small risks to strengthen interpersonal bonds
  • Focusing on strengths
  • Opening up to loved ones about fears, concerns, and ambivalence
  • Practicing self-compassion
  • Engaging in individual, couples, or family therapy

At Avalon Malibu, we guide and support our clients in overcoming secure attachment and other underlying causes of addiction to achieve lasting sobriety and healing. 

There is an undeniable link between addiction and attachment styles. Simply put, those with insecure styles of attachment (anxious, resistant, and disorganized) experience a greater risk of addiction and relapse in recovery. However, those with secure attachments can still be at risk. Addressing this link and working to overcome addiction alongside insecure attachment is necessary to establish and sustain lasting sobriety in recovery. At Avalon Malibu, we can help you heal from substance abuse, mental health disorders, and the underlying issues that inform them. For more information about healing from insecure attachment and addiction, or for more about the treatment programs and services we offer, give us a call today at (844) 857-5992

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