addictions as attachment disorder

Emotional Immaturity in Addicts Linked to Insecure Attachment

I have studied neuroscience for a number of years and see that it offers a great facility for challenging existing views about addiction and contributing to the greater arguments and debates about causes and consequences of addiction but I am also aware that it does not have all the answers and that it can veer towards reductionist views and reductionist solutions such as giving drugs to addicts to help with behavioural manifestations of addiction which can be bizarre at times.

Bizarre because the manifestations of addiction are more complex that observable neuro-biological processes in the brain. Attachment theory highlights this issue for me. It may impact on neuro-biology and neural plasticity of the brain but it is not necessarily the product of these. It can not be “cured” by purely chemical means.

It seems that it can only be resolved by re-applying behaviours that were missing in the first place. In this case, earned attachment via various group therapeutic groups can help with the consequences of insecure attachment experienced in early childhood.   In other words these more adaptive behaviours can help you “manage” the maladaptive behavioural patterns ingrained in one’s brain.

We need other people not drugs or medications in other words. We tried that, it did not work. Love is what we need, we are designed, to give and receive it.

It is a fundamental force in helping develop a healthy brain.

Via neuroscience, I have never been able to get an angle on two vital aspects of my addictive personality. The “hole in the soul” what is it, where does it come from, how can it be explained? The other is why I collapse to needy behaviours?

Attachment disorders explain this for me. It also also explains the constantly fighting. Trauma also has a part to play. I grew up in a very violent, traumatising place. This can also lead to constant fighting. Constant emotional reactivity.

Equally I have found a solution to all these problems. I am generally contented, happy in my own skin. I did not used to be. Now I am. I have much love that I share with those around me. I can also receive it, mostly. I have found what I have been looking for. Love.

I have faith that all my scars will heal in time as so many already.

The results of the study we cite and take excerpts form (1) showed that there is significant difference in attachment styles and emotional maturity between opiate addicts and non-addicts. The results revealed that addicts usually have insecure attachment styles while non-addicts have secure styles. Besides, addicts enjoyed a lower level of emotional maturity compared with non-addicts.

attachment images


“Addicts suffer from negative and inflexible emotions so that they are often fraught with anger, resentment and hatred. They also suffer from loss of love, joy and intimacy. They may have not experienced hope and love for a long time. This exposes them to a serious emotional vacuum which must be dealt with in a treatment process. A typical problem with addicts is their lack of emotional maturity and propensity to self-alienation and dependency disorder which causes a universal sense of fear and mental insecurity.

A thirty-year old addict may perform like a ten-year old adolescent in terms of emotional functioning because most of the addicts have been forced into adulthood before they could have experienced childhood. That is because both society and family have not given them the opportunity to grow emotionally so that they have been confined within the walls of emotional crudity and feel insecure towards the outside world. Evidently, they need support to be
able to escape the confinement and interact with their environment, which requires them to be dependent on others [11].

Addicts suffer from severe feelings of disillusionment with their mothers. Mother’s disregard for the child’s emotional needs causes disruption in children’s self-regulatory processes and consequently damages their mental structure of internal behavioral control. As a result, they will become dependent on external mediums like drugs to compensate for their emotional deficiencies.
Therefore, their harmful experiences of childhood in regard to disillusionment with their mothers may be drawn upon to account for the mechanisms which influence attachment styles.
Accordingly, mothers’ disregard for children’s emotional needs may justify the prevalence of insecure attachment styles in these children [1].

Research has shown that insecure attachment style contributes to the development of mental disorders. Developed at early childhood, insecure attachment is a risk factor for drug abuse and may also influence the treatment of drug abuse disorder. Using Hazan and Shaver adult attachment interview (AAI), Taracena et al (2006) reported that there is positive correlation between drug abuse and avoidant attachment styles. Hankin et al. (2007) conducted a study at the University of Illinois and reported that there is positive correlation between insecure attachment styles and smoking, alcohol use and marijuana use. In a follow-up research in the same
university, the results showed that there is a significant positive correlation between anxious attachment style and the prevalence of stimulant drug use, smoking and alcohol use. Haward and Medway investigated the relationship between attachment styles, coping styles, life stresses and due responses in 75 couples. They reported that with secure styles, adults’ attachments are positively correlated with family relations but negatively correlated with negative social behavior including alcohol use, smoking and/or drug use [3].

Therefore, attachment styles can influence drug abuse disorders through the processes of familial interaction, social control, emotional regulation and self-efficacy. Marlatt et al. (2002) investigated the factors contributing to the frequent relapse of addition and reported that encounters with negative emotions and events are most effective in addiction relapse. It seems
that insecure individuals more frequently resort to drug use as a self-treatment mechanism to relieve their negative emotions and experiences comparing with secure individuals. Shakibaie (2000) studied 137 people and reported that 91.3% of the participants suffered from at least one mental disorder. Accordingly, 68.7% of the participants experienced decreased libido, 59.3% had hypersomnia, 58.7% suffered from major depression and 24.7% suffered from apprehension.
Therefore, in line with previous studies, the present research aims to investigate the relationship between attachment styles and emotional maturity in both addicts and non-addicts.

Hogan and Roberts (1998) contended that immature emotional
behavior includes: impulsive behavior, fuzzy temper, impatience in facing failures, incongruence between specific visual stimuli and responses, inability to forgive others, and too much dependence on others. The present findings showed that there is significant difference in attachment styles between opiate addicts and non-addicts,  that addicts suffer from lack of emotional maturity more than do non-addicts. In addition, the difference between addicts and non-addicts was significant in all the subscales of emotional immaturity.

Torberg and Lyvers (2005) investigated the relationship between attachment, fear of intimacy and differentiation of self in 158 volunteers including 99 individuals registered in an addiction treatment program. As expected, the patients under treatment who suffered from alcoholism, heroin dependency, amphetamines dependency, cocaine or hashish abuse reported high levels of insecure attachment, fear of intimacy and low levels of secure attachment and differentiation of self comparing with the control group.

Insecure attachment, fear of intimacy and differentiation of self may indicate vulnerability of drug abuse.

Besharat (2007) reported that there is significant difference in attachment styles between Iranian drug addicts and non-addicts. There were also significant negative and significant positive correlations between the severity of drug dependency with secure and insecure attachment styles, respectively. Consequently, attachment styles can influence dependency on drugs through the processes of familial interactions, social control, emotional regulation and self-efficacy.



1.  Mortazavi, Zeinab, Faramarz Sohrabi, and Hamid Reza Hatami. “Comparison of attachment styles and emotional maturity between opiate addicts and non-addicts.” 

10 replies »

  1. I am the mother of a severe alcoholic (now 32). He has been through rehab more than once and usually relapses within months of discharge. He is the fourth generation alcoholic on his father’s side. While the points raised in your article are well taken, I do have issue blaming the mother for the alcohol addiction. He has put me through hell and back and we are still on the roller coaster ride. I have distanced myself due to my retirement because I was getting sick from being around him. I feel I have done what I could to the best of my ability and I am now letting go and letting Jesus take the wheel.

    “Addicts suffer from severe feelings of disillusionment with their mothers. Mother’s disregard for the child’s emotional needs causes disruption in children’s self-regulatory processes and consequently damages their mental structure of internal behavioral control. As a result, they will become dependent on external mediums like drugs to compensate for their emotional deficiencies.” This statement is an opinion and unsubstantiated in my opinion. You are blaming the mother for their child’s alcohol addiction when in fact I believe it is a genetic disease.

  2. Hi Suzanne, thank you for your comment. First let me say that I believe the disorder of addiction is not caused solely by insecure attachment, although in a majority of cases it does appear to play some role in later addiction and I do not personally blame mothers or care givers for addiction. Blame is also not a word that has much utility. The study you quote is also a study I used excerpts from, it is the work of other researchers not my own. It is from researchers in India whose writing can at times be at times overally general in it’s tone as it is written using English as a second language, hence I find some of the points made are a bit clumsy and they appear, as you say like, opinions. They are correlations, in fact, they found in their studies but as you say they are stated a bit like they are facts. That does not diminish for me what they are attempting to convey, which is that insecure attachment can lead to issues with self regulation in later life as there have been numerous studies which agree with this. I think also it is clear that the blog I wrote is a personal perspective and that the article I referred to helped explain some of my psychological symptoms and helped explain the course of my own addiction. My mother was an addict too so I would never blame her for having an addiction just like I would not blame anyone else. I would not blame someone for having difficulty coping with child rearing – many things can effect this. I also had trauma in childhood which I believe also contributes greatly to my addictive behaviours. And finally I have a genetic component to my addiction via both parents. I am thus saying that addiction in my case and in many others may be caused by genetics interacting with adverse childhoods – genetics interact with environment – so although up to 50% of addicts/alcoholics have a genetically inherited these genes, the genes are often expressed in relation to environment. I know many addicts and alcoholics who have have a childhood free of distress and are still addicts so one can not say it is solely environment , ie caused by parenting just like it is not solely genetic – it is often a combined interaction of both. Also some people seem to be just born into this world with a predisposition to later addiction. Some of the genes coding for uncontrolled drinking, for example, are also those implicated in anxiety and depression so the feeling of “not belonging” that many addicts feel may be due to genetics like this. I find the study of addiction to be a complex one, with factors contributed to a very heterogeneous condition as I mention in the blog “the manifestations of addiction are more complex than observable neuro-biological processes in the brain” By this I mean in addition to difficulties at a genetic or neurobiological level, there are also difficulties processing and regulating emotion and addicts seem to often have low self esteem, low self concept, negative thinking about self etc, which often contributes to relapse. The frontal part of the brain is also very badly damaged by chronic alcohol and drug use and hence we find it difficult controlling our emotion and our motivation to re-use. Recovery via time and healing helps us cope better but this but it is a process, sometimes a long process, involving several relapses. It doesn’t mean your son will not get recovery in the end. Also in 12 step recovery we do not blame as it prompts relapse eventually, we learn to accept, make amends , forgive and take responsibility for actions which we are accountable for but not responsible as they were actions caused while in active addiction. So I hope this clarifies my view. I use different articles to generate opinion and debate, I do not necessarily agree with the opinions stated in some articles but find they are useful for stimulating debate. But the blame game is not for me or this blogsite. I spent decades in denial about my past and it almost killed me. Everything has to be exposed to the light ultimately in order for it to heal. I hope this reply helps. It is also good that you have distanced yourself from you son, as it was only when my wife did this in relation to me that I eventually asked for help and came into AA and treatment. It is the right thing to do. I relate to your story as I have been suffered the consequence of addiction all my life, even many years prior to starting to use drugs and alcohol etc. .It is a heart breaking family disease but there is solution to and a healing from it in different ways, so I leave you with this message of hope. Paul

  3. I think if your partner is an Alcoholic it takes a lot of hard work and effort to make sure your children are not effected by it.I too have an alcoholic husband as are all his family members 9 still living 2 deceased.I know the first rule I learnt from my mother was don’t let the children do the parents job.I only had 3 children as that is all I knew I could manage and it was such hard work doing the job of 2 parents while my husband was absent either with his Alcoholic family or at Work.I hope I managed it to the best of my ability.I love my kids and I hope we have a good relationship I know they can say “no” to me and I accept that.I always accepted the separation/individuation stage of development.I did the best I could under the circumstances.

    • thanks for your comment Leanne I grew up with addiction and dry drunk alcoholism so have an idea of how tough it must be for you. My wife also had to live with my alcoholism for many years. It is a tough tough grind at times without recognition at times. My mother’s love due to addiction often felt conditional but fortunately my father had only unconditional love which has been hugely important for me coping with my own insecure attachment issues. Something I am still trying to cope with today over forty years ago later. With one parent giving unconditional love there is always a chance we can find and appreciate love in later life. Love is the most important thing in life. I am sure your kids appreciate your love and your efforts.

  4. Porn Addiction causes the same problems. Images of a health brain with those of a cocaine and porn addict are alarming. The prefrontal cortex appears deflated. I have had to leave a 26 year marriage due to this insidious problem with porn. My husband is angry, critical and sarcastic all the time. He lies to my face repeatedly and I will never know exactly what goes on in his world.

    • Yes the prefrontal cortex is deflated in response to certain images which recruit more “motoric” linked and compulsive parts of the brain such as the dorsal striatum, implicated in automatic responses and implicit/habit memory. All addictions, both substance and behaviour addictions, light this region in brain scans which suggests this is a “brain signature” of addiction. I think this could be used in actually helping to diagnose whether a person is an addict and has crossed the line from abuse to addiction. Addiction is accompanied and prompted by the emotion dysregulation you mention. It is only via recovery that we learn to manage the negative emoitons, especially shame, that propels the compulsive nature of addiction. A compulsion is an automatic behaviour to relieve emotion distress. We need to learn a way of managing the negative emotions that drive this distress and it’s subsequent compulsive behaviour. Your husband seems stuck in ths emotional malaise and this distress will continue to drive all his behaviours until he seeks a solution to this, usually by accepting he is an addict and in seeking recovery from his addictive beahviour. Such solutions are available and he can join millions of us who have recovered from these chronic compulsive beahviours. Families can recover from this family disease also. I wish you all the best. Paul

  5. My adult son is addicted to video games. I believe his prefrontal cortex is damaged. He is not maturing. His father and fathers family are alcoholics. I am wondering if AA would help my son. There are no video game addiction groups. From my observation, the addiction is manifesting the same as alcoholism or drugs. Everything I’ve read, correlates. My husband is extremely emotionally immature. He has stopped drinking without AA, but I don’t trust he won’t relapse. He has always had inappropriate responses to frustration or feels easily intimidated and angered over the slightest offense. This isn’t improving. He has anger management issues and is insecure. I have just realized he hasn’t matured emotionally much past his teenage years. In the interim, I’m most concerned with my son. Any advise would be appreciated.

    • Hi Melis, firstly there is a 12 step fellowship for gaming addiction, here is the link – . It operates on similar principles and practices to AA and other 12 step groups. I think this is more suitable than AA. Addiction is scratching that itch that gets worse everytime you scratch it. All addictive beahviours have similarities but I found AA helped me most as I am an alcoholic and NA did not fit me as well. As for your husband he seems sober and not in recovery so the brain functioning around emotion regulation is not getting better. A sign of recovery is being better at dealing with emotions and with life generally. We call his beahviour, stark, raving sober. He lives in his illness by the sound of it. Alcohol is a symptom of this illness and if he does not treat the underlying illness he may well relapse. You are also suffering from his illness by the sound of it. It seems you are enabling his behaviour by tolerating it. You do not have to live like that. You always have choices. You can ask he goes to AA as it is effecting you and your life too. In a real sense, you may be stopping him hitting his true rock bottom. You also deserve the chance to recover from his and your son’s addiction and your own para-alcoholism. It is difficult to see how the dysfunctional behaviour of others effects our behaviour too but it does. Your husband may decide not to go to AA but, if so, you will have to decide long term what is best for you. Either way, I would suggest Al-Anon meetings for you too. It helps to listen to other people who are in your situation and going through similar issues as you. It really helps knowing other people are in the same boat as you and can help you. My wife really benefitted from going. We accept the abnormal as normal in family addiction when there is another way, family recovery. I hope you all come into recovery together, a better life awaits you there. It may be difficut getting this to happen but whatever happens you have to consider yourself and how you can make this diffucult situation more bearable for yourself. Best wishes, Paul

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