Understanding Attachment Theory in Addicts

John Bowlby originated the theory of attachment to examine what happens psychologically to infants in despair when they realize their mother is not near. Bowlby discovered an evolutionary system at work in the way infants demonstrated behaviors indicating knowledge for how to bring their attachment figure back to a closer proximity. An attachment figure is someone who provides the nurturing an infant needs. Called the attachment behavioral system, it determines what behaviors to exhibit based on whether the figure of attachment is nearby, accessible and attentive. When the answer is yes, there are feelings of security, accompanied by confident and flexible behaviors. When the answer is no, the feelings are immensely insecure, with behaviors focused solely on obtaining security from the attachment figure once more. These images, descriptions, and behaviors accurately describe the attachment to drugs and addiction.

On an internal, neurological level, when the brain does not sense the presence of the substance it has grown dependent upon, it dictates behaviors in the body through physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal. Until the substance is obtained and used, the focus of all behavior, internal and external, will be devoted to seeking it out. As a result, when the substance is present in the body’s system, an addict can act normally in their environment- secure and attached to their substance of choice. Children grow out of their attachment stages in development, though there is wide debate about how attachment style influences adulthood. Addiction, on the other hand, is progressive.

Detaching from Attachment

Our attachment to drugs goes beyond the realms of evolution, psychology and physiology. Through the practices of mindfulness, meditation and learning about Buddhist principles we see our attachments as spiritual matters. Attachment are our ways of attempting to control what is uncomfortable, change what is unacceptable, and drive the ego toward more power. When we attach to drugs, we attach to this illusion that we are mastering the suffering present in our lives. Are we ahead of the game if we suffer when we do not feel our attachments? Detaching from our attachments starts with moving through the denial that we are attached and recognizing that we can be present without them. We can, and we will, find a way to be calm, secure, and in acceptance of ourselves and the world around us.

Refuge Recovery incorporates attachment theory therapies with our buddhist psychologies to formulate a holistic approach to addiction recovery. For more information on our treatment programs call (323) 207-0276

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