CPTSD and Substance Abuse

The Link Between Attachment Disorder and Addiction – Attachment disorders are psychiatric conditions that can develop in young children who have problems with emotional attachments to others. Parents, caregivers, or physicians may recognize symptoms of attachment disorder in a child as early as age one.

Often, a parent brings the infant or child to the doctor with one or more of the following concerns:

  • Severe colic or feeding difficulties
  • Failure to gain weight
  • Detached or unresponsive behavior
  • Difficulty being comforted
  • Preoccupied and rebellious behavior
  • Inhibition or hesitation in social interactions
  • Being too intimate with strangers

Most children with an attachment disorder have had profound difficulties in early relationships, such as physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, trauma, or neglect. Some have experienced ineffectual care in an institutional environment or other out-of-home placement. Examples of out-of-home placements include residential programs and foster care.

Others have experienced traumatic losses or multiple changes in their primary caregiver. The exact cause of attachment disorders is unclear, but research posits inadequate caregiving as a possible cause. The physical, emotional, and social difficulties associated with attachment disorders may continue as the child grows up.

Types of Attachment Disorders

Children who have attachment problems can develop one of two types of disorders: Reactive Attachment Disorder or Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder.

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)

Children with RAD are less likely to socialize with others due to adverse experiences with adults during their early years. They have a hard time calming down when stressed and do not seek comfort from caregivers when upset. These children may appear to have little to no emotions when interacting with others and may seem unhappy, tense, sad, or frightened while engaging in normal activities with their caregiver.

Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED)

Children with DSED do not appear apprehensive when meeting someone for the first time. Instead, they may be excessively friendly, and approach strangers to talk or even hug them. Younger children may even allow strangers to pick them up or feed them. When these children are placed in a strange situation, they often don’t check with parents or caregivers and may go with someone they do not know.

Understanding Attachment Disorder

Humans are biologically hardwired for social attachments, and infants possess an inherent survival mechanism to instinctively bond with caregivers. When a baby’s physical and emotional needs are met, he or she will develop secure bonds, learn to trust, communicate, and take steps toward autonomy.

Infants exclusively rely on adult caretakers for emotional regulation. When parents or other caregivers are both responsible and responsive, children are given the basis for the personal security required to learn emotional self-regulation.

On the other hand, babies that do not receive predictable and proper attention from caregivers are not able to establish secure attachments and thereby resort to looking for alternative ways to relieve their distress.

Determining how to comfort a crying infant can be challenging for any parent or caregiver. It’s believed that even the most dutiful parents are only able to accurately respond to a child’s needs about half the time. Therefore, it is possible that even well-intentioned caregivers can fail to respond as necessary for a child to develop secure attachments.

Furthermore, factors such as abuse, neglect, or trauma further jeopardize a child’s ability to form bonds. Unique traits characterize all forms of childhood attachment disorders, but all share a common feature in the child’s quest for extrinsic comfort and security.

The Role of Addiction

So how exactly is attachment disorder related to addiction? As children grow and develop, they naturally become less reliant on caretakers. For those children with attachment disorders, however, the search for external emotional support and regulation persists into the teenage years, when many people face situations that are conducive to drug and alcohol use.

Since teenagers with attachment disorders have been seeking emotional control since infancy, they are particularly susceptible to eating disorders, or self-harming behaviors such as cutting, aggression, or hypervigilance. These young adults may also develop toxic relationships rife with manipulation or dependency.

For many young persons, drugs and alcohol can become an easily accessible and effective means of self-soothing. It is common for substance abusers to describe their first exposure to drinking or drugs as an extraordinary experience of contentment and well-being.

Psychoactive drugs and alcohol have compelling emotional effects. In the beginning, they can produce temporary feelings of euphoria that, over time, can propel addiction. People who suffer from attachment disorders internalize feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem early in life that can manifest as a fear of intimacy later.

Moreover, drugs and alcohol may offer a panacea to adolescents seeking emotional comfort while learning to navigate awkward relationships.

Getting Treatment for Addiction and Attachment Disorder

Understanding the link between addiction and attachment disorders allows treatment centers such as Recovery in Tune to customize programs to the specific needs of each patient.

Drugs and alcohol foster withdrawal and detachment, and therefore, a critical part of recovery is developing trusting bonds with reliable people. Conversely, relationships that promote intimacy and honesty provide a framework for individuals in recovery, helping to repair and confront the patterns of isolation and avoidance commonly experienced during active addiction.

Our center employs caring and professional medical providers who specialize in addiction and mental health. Using an integrated approach, we collaborate to develop a comprehensive program that includes essential, evidence-based therapies such as psychotherapy, psychoeducation, counseling, and group support.

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