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Attachment Style and Substance Use Disorders

Emotional Attachment and Addiction

Attachment style refers to the type of emotional bond formed between an infant and a caregiver. It can influence psychological, physical, and behavioral wellbeing later in life.1 Those who form insecure attachments in childhood may be at an increased risk for substance misuse.

Learn more in this article about drug misuse and attachment, including:

What Are Attachment Styles?

Attachments are formed in infancy to help a baby learn to emotionally regulate before they learn how to self-regulate.1 If a baby or child feels scared or endangered, they will typically turn to a parent or caregiver for protection. Ideally, caregivers will protect and support their child, forming a secure bond.3 This helps a child learn how to self-regulate in a healthy, secure way.3

If a child develops a healthy attachment to a caregiver, he or she will be more likely to consider relationships safe, reliable, and important and may have more security and confidence to explore the world around them.1 If unhealthy attachments are formed, they may experience elevated stress levels that could lead to certain responses like depression and anxiety and struggles to feel secure in relationships.1

Healthy attachments are vital in the development of:1, 2

  • Resilience.
  • Adaptability.
  • Safety.
  • Trust.
  • Empathy.
  • Verbal and non-verbal communication.
  • Interpersonal and intrapersonal functioning.
  • Emotional regulation.
  • Stress regulation.

Effects of Insecure Attachment

Those with an insecure attachment style may have over- and under-exaggerated responses to stress and be more susceptible to depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.1

Further consequences of insecure or unhealthy attachment include:1, 2

  • Early pregnancy.
  • Criminality.
  • Risky sexual behavior.
  • Homelessness.
  • Anger problems.
  • Drug or alcohol abuse.
  • Intimacy problems.

Insecure Attachment Styles

Insecure attachment can manifest in a few different attachment styles, such as:2

  • Anxious: The person requires high levels of approval, attention, and intimacy from romantic partners.
  • Fearful-avoidant: The person wants close relationships, but isn’t comfortable with intimacy.
  • Dismissive-avoidant: The person is extremely independent and doesn’t desire emotional closeness with others.

Insecure Attachment and Substance Misuse

Insecure attachments may be a risk factor for a person forming a substance use disorder (SUD).3 People who continue misusing substances may actually end up distancing themselves in relationships rather than grow closer and connected.3

Fearful-avoidant attachment styles may be more common in those who use heroin while alcohol users may show a combination of insecure attachment patterns.3 Co-occurring mental health disorders may also play a role in attachment styles.3

Some other correlations between substance abuse and attachment style include:

  • Those who have insecure attachment in romantic relationships tend to misuse substances more than those exhibiting secure attachment.2
  • People who have increased attachment anxiety are more likely to experience negative consequences from drinking.2

This correlation is multi-faceted and is still being explored. But it is believed that those with an insecure attachment style may turn to drugs or alcohol in times of stress as opposed to confiding in a loved one or using a healthy coping mechanism. 2

Substance Addiction Treatment

If you suffer from a substance disorder, treatment programs may help you address substance misuse and underlying mental health issues (co-occurring disorders).

There is no one-size-fits-all for addiction treatment and it’s important that treatment programs be individualized to meet your unique needs and substance use. Below are common types of recovery programs:

  • Inpatient/residential: You live at the inpatient treatment center for the duration of treatment, while receiving a variety of recovery services, such as detox, therapy, counseling, medical care, and aftercare planning.
  • Outpatient: Outpatient programs provide you with the opportunity to live at home and meet your school, work, or home responsibilities while receiving addiction treatment. This option may be less appropriate for those suffering from relatively severe addictions or co-occurring mental health disorders.
  • 12-step: Twelve-step programs, such as Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, are free to join. The only requirement is that you wish to stop using substances of misuse. The environment is encouraging and includes people at different points in the recovery process.
  • Behavioral Therapy: Individual or group therapy will help you address unhealthy patterns related to substance use and create a balance between independence and intimacy. The therapist will provide a safe and comfortable environment in which you can learn how to develop healthy attachments and avoid and/or respond to triggering situations.

American Addiction Centers has helped thousands recover from addiction and we can help you or your loved one too. Check your insurance to find out instantly if your insurance provider may be able to cover all or part of the cost of rehab and associated therapies. You can also sign up 24/7 text support for addiction questions at your convenience.

Treatment for Insecure Attachment

Treatment for attachment challenges often involves working with a therapist in a group or one-on-one setting. It can be conducted with individuals or couples.

A therapist may use a number of techniques to help the person:

  • Resolve grief and trauma related to early childhood experiences.
  • Identify and restructure unhelpful thinking patterns and beliefs.
  • Develop a positive view of themselves.
  • Learn effective communication skills to express feelings and needs.
  • Practice new behaviors.
  • Experience a positive relationship and attachment with the therapist.

Find an Addiction Recovery Program

If you or a loved one is experiencing insecure attachment alongside substance misuse, don’t hesitate to reach out and speak to an American Addiction Centers’ admissions navigator at . They can answer basic questions about addiction treatment, check your insurance coverage, and explain treatment options, so you can start recovery today.

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