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How Attachment Style can Impact Addiction

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Those who think addiction is a choice or merely a behavioral defect may be unaware of how early development can significantly influence someone’s susceptibility to addiction, or other behavior health issues, later on in life. Attachment styles are the different kinds of emotional bonds infants form with their caregivers from the time they are born. The interactions they have with their parents during these earliest stages, as well as later into adolescence and early adulthood, all affect psychological, physical and emotional behaviors. The way people learn to connect to their caregivers also gives them a preview of other relationships they will have in the future, along with mechanisms to deal with positive and negative aspects of life.

4 Styles of Adult Attachment

People’s perceptions of emotional intimacy, communication style, response to conflict and expectations of relationships are dependent on their attachment style experience in early life. Attachment styles all have three primary dimensions with which they can be characterized by:

Dependence/Avoidance: How people feel having others dependent on them or depending on others.

Anxiety: How worried people are about their partner or others abandoning or rejecting them.

Closeness: How comfortable someone is feeling emotionally connected and close to others.

These factors all differ when looking at the different attachment styles below:

  • Secure: Low avoidance, low anxiety. Autonomous yet comfortable with intimacy and not concerned with abandonment or rejection. Has the ability to depend on others and have others rely on them. Trusting, empathetic, forgiving, and tolerant of differences. Open communication style while being able to pick up on nonverbal context clues. Parents with this type of attachment are sensitive, warm, and in-tune with their child’s emotions and needs.
  • Avoidant: High avoidance, low anxiety. Dismissive and uncomfortable with intimacy. Emotionally distant and prioritizes freedom and independence over togetherness. Aloof communication style with a focus on logic and intelligence without touching on emotions. Stoic, self-sufficient, but will hold off on confronting conflict until they erupt with anger. Parents of this type are emotionally unavailable and often disengaged from their child’s cues, causing them to adopt avoidant attachments as well.
  • Anxious: Low avoidance, high anxiety. Preoccupied with the desire to be close with others or in a relationship but too anxious and insecure. Often needy and concerned with rejection and abandonment. Holds grudges and is very sensitive to a partner’s mood or actions. Highly emotional, combative, and has few boundaries. Communication style is deflective and has a hard time accepting blame. Parents with this style are inconsistent with the attention they give their children, causing them to feel anxiously attached, unsure of what the day’s mood will bring.
  • Disorganized: High avoidance, high anxiety. Uncomfortable with intimacy and untrusting of others in a relationship. Unresolved emotions make them frightened by past experiences and traumas that have not been mourned or dealt with. Difficulty with emotional intimacy and can be argumentative and often abusive to partners or loved ones. Antisocial tendencies and can be aggressive, unremorseful, and often suffers from depression and PTSD. Parents with this type of attachment often mistreat their children, withhold attention and love, and lead them to have a disorganized attachment to others, often making them susceptible to becoming the victim of abusers.

It’s important to note that most adults have a combination of traits from various types; rarely do people fall precisely into one style exactly. These classifications are passed down from generation to generation and are the way that children learn how to connect with their caregivers, others, and eventually their own children.

Effects of Insecure Attachment Styles

Healthy attachments are essential for the development of many key characteristics of someone’s personality, like having empathy, resilience, adaptability and the ability to trust others. It impacts a person’s ability to manage stress and emotions, as well as communicate both verbally and non-verbally and maintain functioning inter- and intrapersonal skills. The key factor that relates to addiction is problems with stress management. Security attachment helps people manage independence and take control of their lives and their environment.

Insecure attachment styles can lead people to have abnormal responses or unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with stress or conditions like depression, anxiety and PTSD. There are long-term consequences that correlate with these attachment styles that can include risky behavior, substance use, homelessness, anger management issues and problems with interpersonal relationships. The issues that come along with these situations and behaviors add to the inability to handle stress, usually pushing the person to seek out some form of release or pleasure in other ways.

Addiction as an Attachment Disorder

Research has shown that those with insecure attachment who greatly fear intimacy frequently use substances as an escape technique rather than facing their emotional distress, especially avoidant types. Not having any close friends or partners can lead to isolation and dysfunctional view of self. Those who aren’t entirely avoidant but feel distrust in romantic relationships also show an increased rate of drug use, as well as those who have attachment anxiety. Overall, each of these insecure attachment styles ultimately lead to heightened stress-motivated behaviors that have negative consequences. These results add to the multidimensional core of the addiction connection because avoidant types are more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol rather than confide in a friend or loved one or communicate their concerns in a romantic relationship.

Treatment for Addiction and Attachment Style

If someone with substance use disorder is looking to treat their illness effectively, it’s helpful to become aware of attachment styles and reflect on their upbringing. Successful recovery can be achieved when underlying trauma like problematic family affairs are dealt with as they may have lead a patient to substance use as a coping mechanism. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help rewire the brain to overcome the adverse effects that unhealthy attachment styles have impressed into the brain’s pathways and teach patients how to deal with their feelings more productively.

Those who grow up with a healthy and secure attachment style with their caregivers are often very lucky but also somewhat rare. With addiction becoming more prevalent across the country and through all walks of life, it’s become evident that there are more underlying factors that can lead people to misuse substances. Being mindful of these risk factors that can predispose people to substance use disorder can aid in addiction recovery and also the upbringing of future generations.

Learn More About Treatment at BAART

Reach out to us today to get more details about BAART Programs and medication-assisted therapy (MAT) for opioid addiction at any of our centers near you.

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