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Attachment Styles and Their Connection to Substance Use Disorders

Attachment styles are patterns of behavior and thinking towards relationships formed in early childhood. They are based on the emotional attachments you had with your primary caregivers.

The idea behind attachments is that when you receive consistent care and love, you learn how to regulate your emotions, develop good coping strategies, and form healthy relationships.

If you don’t have a stable upbringing, you can eventually experience low self-esteem, mistrust, anxiety and other problems, which can negatively impact the bonds you form with others. Of course, attachments are more complex than this, but this gives you an idea of what to expect. 

Let’s learn more about the different attachment styles and how they can lead to an increase in substance use disorders.

Four Different Attachment Styles  

There are four attachment styles that people can develop based on their upbringing. It is possible to have more than one attachment style, as they can shift depending on the relationship. For example, you may be in a secure relationship with your friend, but have an anxious attachment with your significant other. In other words, attachment styles are a spectrum, and you don’t necessarily have to fit into one box. With this in mind, here are the four different attachment styles: 

Secure attachment 

Individuals with a secure attachment generally have healthy relationships and good emotional regulation skills. They were likely raised in a loving, stable home with good role models around them. If you have a secure attachment style, you should feel confident in your relationships and comfortable with your independence. At the same time, you’re also fine giving your partner space and asking for support when you need it. 

Anxious attachment 

Those with an anxious attachment often experience fear of abandonment and insecurity in relationships. They may have heightened emotional responses and a deep-seated need for approval. While they long to feel close to their partner, this is often damaged by overanalyzing their partner’s behaviors, asking for constant reassurance, and having big reactions to small problems. 

Avoidant attachment 

People with an avoidant attachment typically distance themselves from others. They may deny their need for close relationships due to not being properly cared for as a child. Their caregiver may not have shown concern for them growing up, teaching them to rely only on themselves. You may have an avoidant attachment if you like being independent, but panic at the thought of being in a committed relationship or dependent on someone else. 

Disorganized attachment 

Disorganized attachment is characterized by inconsistent and confusing behaviors in a relationship. Usually, people have an extreme desire to be in an intimate relationship, but push others away when they show attention. This is often the result a tumultuous childhood consisting of fear and trauma.

Substance Use and Attachment Styles 

The attachment styles you have in your relationships can contribute to the use of substances. If you have a secure attachment, you are less likely to use substances because you are happy with yourself, secure in your relationships, and know how to cope in healthy ways. However, if you have other attachment styles—anxious, avoidant, disorganized—you could be at a higher risk for substance use.

For instance, when you have an anxious attachment style, you may turn to substances to cope with real or imagined relationship problems, to feel more secure in social situations or to manage overwhelming emotions. An avoidant attachment style may cause you to use substances to deal with suppressed emotions. Because these emotions are uncomfortable or painful, it can seem easier to push them away. A disorganized attachment style can also lead to substance use because of the erratic behaviors. Substance use can therefore provide an escape from this emotional chaos. 

Seeking Treatment for Unhealthy Attachments

Fortunately, there is hope. Understanding the link between attachment styles and substance use can help you identify where your problems exist and how to work through them in a healthier way. Many therapies can help, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and trauma-based therapies. To learn more about healing from unhealthy attachments, forming healthy relationships, and overcoming substance use, contact the admissions team from Awakenings Treatment Center. We can get you started on a better path!