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

Reach out now, we can help
Home / News / Articles / Attachment and addiction: Is there a relationship and does it really matter.

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

10 September, 2019Articles, News

Attachment theory

Attachment theory was first developed by John Bowlby. He  was a British  psychiatrist, 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 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).

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. Though this may not account necessarily for their addictive patterns, it has most certainly impacted their relationships in adulthood.

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. Alternatively, some attach to the programme in an unrealistic, 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 at which stage to implement specific approaches with specific individuals which would not 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 vast levels of surrender and 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 again 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 addicts.

No Obligation Addiction Assessment

Book a No Obligation Confidential Assessment at your nearest Treatment Centre Today.

Johannesburg Admissions: +27 74 895 1043
Pretoria Admissions: +27 82 653 3311

Stories of Recovery

  • The encouragement, love and support from the team at Crossroads allowed me to eventually see that I was worth something - that my life could be turned around and that I could accomplish the things that had long been a forgotten dream.
    Oliver VG
    Read more
  • On the last day of my stint at Crossroads I could only express gratitude towards all who works there. A wise councillor once commented on my question when one is ready for rehab by explaining that when one is ready for rehab, rehab is ready for you.
    Johan B
    Read more
  • I was lost and my soul was broken until I ended up at Crossroads and was introduced to the Twelve Steps. With the help of their excellent staff and amazing support I have recently been clean for 18 months, I could not have done it without them!
    Carla S
    Read more
  • "Just for today I am more than three years in recovery. I have Cross Roads to thank for this wonderful gift. Cross Roads helped me to set a firm foundation in my recovery on which I can continue to build."
    Angelique J
    Read more
Left Arrow Right Arrow

Approved Medical Aids

Bestmed LogoBonitas LogoCAMAF LogoDiscovery Health LogoFedhealth LogoGovernment Employees Medical SchemeLiberty CorporateMedihelp Medical Scheme