Addiction is a complex illness with many contributing factors. While it is not yet possible to definitively predict whether a person will become addicted to drugs or alcohol, the risk of developing a substance dependence or an addiction is higher in people who are exposed to stress or trauma. Research has also shown that issues like attachment and addiction are related.

What Is Attachment?

Humans are social beings by nature. We thrive when we have regular, healthy interactions with other humans. In contrast, when we are isolated, our health and well-being may deteriorate. People who are isolated are at an increased risk of developing physical and mental health problems.

In infancy and childhood, humans are entirely reliant on others for food and safety. When babies and children experience the love and attention of their caregivers, most often from the parents, they develop what is referred to as “secure attachment.”

Secure attachment relates to a baby’s emotional state. Parents may provide for a baby’s physical needs, but if the baby does not experience positive emotions and interactions from their parents, that child will not develop secure attachment. It is critical to a child’s well-being that their caregivers are emotionally involved and responsive to their needs.

How Attachment and Addiction Are Connected

Addiction treatment specialists are aware that people of any age and from any ethnic background are vulnerable to addiction. Likewise, the illness can occur regardless of a person’s intellectual ability or wealth. What is not fully understood is why some people become addicted to substances while others who take the same substances do not.

For most people, it takes repeated and escalating exposure to a substance before dependence develops and leads the way to addiction, which is defined as continuing to use a substance despite the problems it causes in your life. That means that people who use drugs or alcohol frequently are more vulnerable to becoming addicted than people who rarely take substances or do so in a moderate way. People who have not experienced secure attachment are more likely to seek other forms of refuge, such as drugs or alcohol, which increases the risk of developing an addiction.

Some experts suggest that addiction is a form of attachment to drugs or alcohol that has its roots in the absence of secure attachments in infancy. Numerous studies have found connections between insecure attachment and addiction. Insecure attachment is associated with behaviors that put people’s health at risk, including the excessive use of alcohol and/or drugs.

While attachment and addiction are related, it is not inevitable that those who have missed out on secure attachment will go on to develop an addiction. Many people who have not experienced secure attachment will lead healthy lives with meaningful and rewarding relationships.

Treatment for Attachment-Related Addiction

Addiction often results in people becoming isolated and detached. Many of those who suffer from addiction tend to build behavior patterns that are focused around substance use. They may withdraw from normal social encounters and become alienated from family and friends.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is often used in addiction treatment to help people transition from negative to positive behaviors. This includes building or re-building healthy social networks. CBT is beneficial for those who did not experience secure attachment in childhood. CBT can provide people with the skills they need to develop and maintain healthy, rewarding relationships.