Attachment and addiction: Are there a relationship and does it really matter.

Attachment theory

Attachment theory was first developed by John Bowlby. He  was a British psychologistpsychiatrist, and psychoanalyst, notable for his interest in child development and for his pioneering work in attachment theory. He held various relevant positions including as deputy director of the Tavistock Clinic in London.

Bowlby (1969) believed there exists a continuity of attachment from early childhood to adulthood in such a way that the style of attachment that’s develops in an individual during very early years would continue to be the style manifested in adulthood in terms of relationships. “This was believed to be accomplished via a persistent mental model of self that was developed during early childhood interactions with the primary caregiver”.

Research findings

Research on Bowlby’s theory of attachment showed that infants placed in an unfamiliar situation and separated from their parents will generally react in one of three ways upon reunion with the parents:

  1. Secure attachment: These infants showed distress upon separation but sought comfort and were easily comforted when the parents returned;
  2. Anxious-resistant attachment: A smaller portion of infants experienced greater levels of distress and, upon reuniting with the parents, seemed both to seek comfort and to attempt to “punish” the parents for leaving.
  3. Avoidant attachment: Infants in the third category showed no stress or minimal stress upon separation from the parents and either ignored the parents upon reuniting or actively avoided the parents (Fraley, 2010). https://positivepsychology.com/attachment-theory/

What relevance does this have if any to addiction.

Often, we see people in the treatment centre that have had very difficult attachments to their primary care givers, usually parents, that while may not account necessarily for their addictive patterns, most certainly impacted their adult relationships.

Research has shown insecure attachment styles can be correlated to substance abuse, emotional distress, and interpersonal problems. More specifically, most studies focus on the correlation between insecure attachment styles and substance abuse.

There is evidence that participants who exhibit higher levels of insecure attachment in their romantic relationships will have a higher tendency to abuse substances and that the participants who exhibit lower levels of insecure attachments in their romantic relationships will have a lower tendency to abuse substances.

So, what you may be asking.

There may be a hypothesis that suggests that the attachment styles do not only impact “partner” relationships but also have implications in terms of attachment to processes that are necessary for good recovery.

One may ask if a relationship exists between relationship attachments and attachment to the recovery programme, the process of recovery, the attachment to the 12 steps or even the attachment to a higher power.

We have seen so often clients fighting the process, fighting the concepts, fighting the programme for reasons other than logic and acceptance of its efficacy.

Or alternatively attaching to the programme in an unrealistic way idealistic fashion which lacks depth and congruence.

Implications for treatment

If may be helpful in the planning of the treatment process to understand the attachment “style” or stage to implement specific approaches with specific individuals which would replace the usual traditional approach but rather enhance it.

For example, Step Two (We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity). This step implies huge trust huge levels of surrender huge levels of attaching if only to a belief. If we understood better the attachment issues in respect of all our clients, we may be able to understand better the resistances we often find in the course of the treatment process

Another example a thorough understanding and application of step 4 (We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves) implies the capacity to behave differently in our relationships, to develop trust and openness. Once a gain a good understanding of attachment style could assist in this process. There appears to be a relationship between addiction and attachment theory and it behoves us to be aware of it in our endeavours to assist.