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Attachment and Addiction

Many of us wonder, how did I end up with an addiction.  One of the reasons is rooted in what we call attachment theory.  Addiction is misguided attachment, when our need for attachment to a parent or role model goes unmet, we attach to other people who can meet our needs or we end up fantasizing that some pixels on a screen or a stranger can fulfill all our desires. Actually, long-term recovery is not possible until the capacity to achieve satisfaction from interpersonal attachment is achieved. 

Secure attachment is the goal. Secure attachment is when you feel safe interacting with others and can speak easily about your childhood.  You have a sense of personal identity; feel comfortable in your own skin and can easily deal with imperfection.  You can have compassion for others and a sense of humor, easily accepting other’s viewpoints past and present.  Most of all secure attachment is when you can return to a secure state of mind after something negative happens, deal with the stress and amplify a positive outcome.

The opposite of secure attachment can be broken down into several categories.

  1. Dismissive Attachment (I don’t need others, I can do it myself).  These are strong independent and normal people who hide their hurt, stress and neediness.  They do not respond with feelings and their emphasis is on fun, games and material objects, not relationships.  They might identify negatively with their parents.
  2. Insecure Avoidant Attachment (Parent:  Do not come to me needing emotional support).  These people are somewhat independent and defensive and have a limited ability to experience feelings. They are not empathic and have an over reliance on regulating their emotions with substances and risky behaviors.
  3. Insecure Resistant Ambivalent (Mother is physically present but emotionally inconsistent). These are individuals who grew up where the parent was accessible but signals a need for disengagement.  The child becomes distressed not to be ignored again and remains angry and hurt as if to say, “I need you, I’ll show you a crisis!”
  4. Fearful / Avoidant: These individuals have experienced some sort of abuse, grief or trauma in their lives and can no longer unsuccessfully deny it happened because they are still acting out or relapsing. They feel a strong need to “push it out of my mind,” and some have feelings of deserving the abuse.

What is the remedy for people who don’t have a secure attachment?  Look at it as a continuum.  Depression------------------------------------------Play. When we don’t have secure attachment, we feel depressed, anxious and angry, as if to say, “If you’re not going to treat me miserably like I feel, I will treat myself badly to fortify my position of misery by fear, anger and desire for others who are not healthy for me.”  You will continue to numb out with substances and behaviors like gambling, sex, shopping, food and video games so you don’t have to feel any true emotions.

The remedy is completion, play and loving kindness to others.  When you complete a task, project, hobby or competition you feel a sense of completion.  This is the beginning of happiness; setting a goal for yourself and working toward accomplishing the goal, no matter how small or insignificant. Each accomplished goal will boost your self- esteem and bring you closer to joy and away from depression.

Lack of play is often what causes people to have an attachment disorder. When attachment figures in childhood don’t play with us and don’t emotionally validate our accomplishments, we have to grow up too quickly and we push our playful side into a locked box in our brain so we can survive and become independent. The secret is to break open the locked box and bring play back into your life as an adult.

Doing good deeds for others is the third element to repairing insecure attachments. When you help someone else you increase your own self-worth and others will respond to you favorably.  You will literally force a secure attachment by helping others and showing an interest in other people.  Become a giver instead of a taker and watch your sense of attachment increase. You will know when you have succeeded when you can easily establish secure attachments outside of a therapeutic relationship.

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