Attachment Style and Drug Abuse

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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 are at an increased risk for substance abuse.

Learn more about drug abuse and attachment, including:

What Are Attachment Styles?

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Attachment in infancy affects how a person views relationships and closeness in the future. 1 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 will have the security and confidence to explore the world around him or her. 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.

Being able to regulate stress is particularly important. It influences the person’s independence, relationships, learning skills, and exploration. 1

Effects of Insecure Attachment

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

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-preoccupied: The person requires high levels of approval 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.

Each of these insecure attachment styles can lead to relationship problems in adulthood as well as other unhealthy behaviors, such as substance abuse.

Insecure Attachment and Substance Abuse

Man sitting at bar and drinking

Insecure attachment styles are associated with emotional distress, interpersonal issues, and drug and alcohol abuse. 2

In one research study, alcohol, marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine, or heroin were more likely to have a fear of intimacy and have an insecure attachment style. 3

Some more correlations between substance abuse and attachment style include:

  • Those who have insecure attachment in romantic relationships tend to abuse substances more than those exhibiting secure attachment. 2
  • People who have increased attachment anxiety are more likely to experience negative consequences from drinking. 2
  • An anxious attachment style is associated with increased drug use as well as stress-motivated substance abuse. 4

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

Other Problems

Other difficulties from insecure attachment include the following, which may influence drug or alcohol use: 2

  • Problems forming social relationships (leading to anxiety or distress).
  • Lack of supportive partner relationships.
  • Dysfunctional view of self.

Substance Addiction Treatment

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If you suffer from a substance addiction and insecure attachment, treatment programs can help you deal with your substance abuse and any underlying mental health issues.

There is no one-size-fits-all for addiction treatment. It all depends on your individual needs and comfort level. Below are some common recovery programs:

Treatment for Attachment Issues

Treatment for attachment issues often involves working with a therapist in a group or a 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 are concerned about you or a loved one’s substance abuse, don’t hesitate to seek out addiction treatment. Call our helpline at 1-888-319-2606 Helpline Information to speak to a treatment support specialist who can provide you with information about recovery programs.


[1]. Rees, C. (2007). Childhood attachment. J Gen Pract, 54(544), 920-922. doi:10.3399/096016407782317955

[2]. Borhani, Y. (2013). Substance Abuse and Insecure Attachment Styles: A Relational Study. LUX, 2(1), 1-13. doi:10.5642/lux.201301.04

[3]. Thorberg, F. A., & Lyvers, M. (2006). Attachment, fear of intimacy and differentiation of self among clients in substance disorder treatment facilities. Addictive Behaviors, 31(4), 732-737. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2005.05.050

[4]. Kassel, J. D., Wardle, M., & Roberts, J. E. (2007). Adult attachment security and college student substance use. Addictive Behaviors, 32(6), 1164-1176. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2006.08.005

[5]. Porter, J. (n.d.). Addiction and Attachment Theory. Academia, 1-20.

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