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Attachment Styles and Addiction: Understanding the Link

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Our connections and relationships with other people have significant impacts on our levels of stress – and our potential for developing an addiction. To understand how we relate to others, it is important to look at how our bonds were formed in childhood and what attachment style we tend towards as a result.

While we grow and develop tremendously from childhood to adulthood, the connections and experiences we had as children stay with us, profoundly impacting our adult lives. Trauma, neglect, or other experiences when our emotional or physical needs were not met can fundamentally alter how we engage in relationships and perceive the world later in life. These effects can also factor into the potential for addictive behaviours.

In fact, the ways that we form relationships or “attachments” to others based on our childhood experiences are part of what can predict the possibility for dependency. Those with insecure attachment styles are more likely to struggle with substance abuse or addictive behaviours than those with secure attachments. Knowing what type of attachment style you tend towards can help you better understand how you relate to others in your personal relationships, and also increase your awareness of the possible risks for addiction. If you already struggle with addiction this article can also hopefully give you some insights.

What Attachment Style Am I?

Attachment theory was originally developed by British psychologist John Bowlby, who defined attachment as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.” These attachments help humans meet their needs, whether basic ones like food or shelter, or emotional needs, such as love and support. For people who are fortunate enough to have their needs consistently met by their caregivers, they tend to form what Bowlby termed “secure attachments.” People whose needs were not met consistently, or were in abusive or neglectful situations in childhood, often form attachments which are “insecure.” 

Secure Attachment

People who form secure attachments were generally raised in a safe, loving environment where support was consistently available from caregivers. These people tend to have a positive perception of both themselves and other people. They typically have healthy, balanced relationships, and are comfortable and confident in asking for what they want. 

Common features of this attachment style include:

  • Identifies and communicates needs 
  • Open to, but not overly dependent on, romantic relationships
  • Successfully addresses conflict 
  • Maintains appropriate boundaries

Insecure Attachments: The Three Types

1. Avoidant

People with an avoidant attachment style were often raised in unstable environments where their needs were not regularly met or acknowledged, but were also not intentionally neglected. As adults, these people tend to have a positive perception of themselves but a negative view of others, and are wary of close or committed relationships, vulnerability and intimacy. 

Common features of this attachment style include:

  • Fear of closeness and intimacy
  • Appears aloof or emotionally distant
  • Avoids conflict
  • Doesn’t reach out for help or support

2. Anxious

Those with anxious attachment styles grew up in a setting where caregivers didn’t purposely neglect them, but were also not consistent in meeting their needs. As children these people were happy when their needs were met, but confused and anxious when they were not, contributing to low self-esteem and a desire to please others in an attempt to secure needs. In adulthood, this can lead to overdependence in romantic relationships, as well as fear and worry about their perceptions of their partner’s behaviours. 

Common features of this attachment style include:

  • Need for validation from others
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Being perceived by others as “clingy” or “needy”
  • Trouble setting boundaries

3. Disorganised or Fearful-Avoidant

Complex and challenging, this attachment style is often a result of a traumatic, abusive, or regularly inconsistent and unstable childhood. Caregivers were unpredictable, which instilled fear in the child rather than a sense of security. As adults, people with this type of attachment have a negative view of both themselves and others, and want very much to connect with people but experience extreme anxiety around relationship building.

Common features of this type of attachment style include:

  • Discomfort expressing or receiving affection
  • Feeling undeserving of love or closeness
  • Needing intense closeness or total separation with little middle ground
  • Very critical of both self and others

How Do Insecure Attachment Styles Link to Addiction?

Insecure attachment styles are often accompanied by feelings of loneliness, anxiety, dissatisfaction, and discomfort. The stress related to insecure attachment styles can result in a need to self-medicate. People may find comfort in substances, or in food, sex or other potentially addictive behaviours in order to cope with stress and challenges that arise from insecure attachments. 

Can people who have secure attachments experience addiction?

People who are securely attached can also be impacted by addiction. Addiction is a complex disorder with a variety of contributing factors that may be genetic, environmental, or biological in nature. Therefore, while people with secure attachments may be less likely to be driven by their attachment style towards addiction, there may be other factors that result in a dependency.  

Is addiction itself a type of attachment?

Some researchers believe that addiction itself is a type of insecure attachment. Addiction creates a strong bond, albeit an unhealthy one, that can promote a feeling of connection and involvement, especially in the early stages. The cycle of addiction can actually mirror those of insecurely attached relationships, with toxic interactions occurring in both situations. This can include things like:

  • Loss of interest in friends and family
  • Withdrawal or emotional dysregulation if addiction is stopped or relationship ends
  • Continued involvement despite negative impacts

How Do I Change My Attachment Style?

Because attachment styles arise from experiences and relationships in our childhood, professional support is often needed in identifying and analysing events and patterns that have shaped these styles, and then developing new patterns of thought and behaviour in response. Some common therapeutic methods include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – involves identifying, examining and altering established patterns of thought to help build new, healthy behaviours
  • Trauma focused CBT – a type of cognitive behavioural therapy that addresses the mental and emotional needs of trauma survivors who are struggling to overcome the damaging effects of past traumatic events.
  • Dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT) – focuses on teaching people how to stay in the present, manage their emotions, improve interpersonal relationships, and develop healthy coping mechanisms to deal with stress
  • Tension and trauma-releasing exercises – basic exercises designed to help relieve tension and release stress stored in the body, decreasing the intensity of anxiety and trauma-related symptoms

Building Healthy Relationships at The Dawn Thailand 

Building Healthy Relationships at The Dawn Thailand 

The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab, located in beautiful northern Thailand, caters to a primarily international client base. The Dawn was created to foster an environment of personal growth and healing for people who want to change their lives for the better, and overcome addiction or mental health issues.

Internationally accredited by the American Accreditation Commission International (AACI), The Dawn offers tailormade treatment plans that cater to each individual’s needs by using a comprehensive, holistic treatment method and modern techniques with proven results. The Dawn treats a variety of addiction and mental health conditions, as well as co-occurring disorders, and offers a broad range of treatment modalities all under one roof.

A Life-Changing Retreat for Mental Health and Addiction in Thailand

Stress, worry, and lack of downtime are known triggers of most mental health conditions, including addiction disorders. Located on the outskirts of the internationally-known tourist destination Chiang Mai, The Dawn’s tranquil riverfront location is surrounded by picturesque rice fields and traditional Thai villages. Arriving at The Dawn immediately transports you into an oasis of calm, completely removing you from all your stressors so that you can focus on your needs and personal growth. 

If you are looking for an opportunity to redefine your relationships, overcome addiction, and thrive in your connections with others, call The Dawn today and learn more about our unique programming.

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