Attachment Theory

Attachment theory is a group theory that entails a psychological trend to seek closeness in another person and feeling secured when with the person. This theory provides a framework for making predictions on the role of attachment representations in organizing behaviors. Attachment theory is based on different attachment styles which play a key role in determining human addictive behaviors. Research has found out that different attachment styles mould individuals differently during childhood and ultimately plays a key role in molding their behaviors when they are adults. Individuals exposed to different attachment styles during their childhood have been found to have differing interpersonal relations and behavior; this is because attachments held by individuals during childhood have been found to progress to adulthood. This paper tries to establish a connection between various attachment representations and addictive human behavior. It also tries to develop an insight on how attachment representations during childhood affect   later life of an individual. 

Attachments theory

Attachment can be defined as an emotional connection to another person that entails exchange of care, comfort and pleasure. The attachment theory can be said to be the psychological tendency of an individual to seek closeness in another person. This attachment is characterized by the individual feeling secure when the person is present and the feeling of anxiety when the person is absent. The central theme of attachment theory is that mothers who are always available and respond to the infants’ needs builds a sense of security between them and the infants. These attachments serve to promote physical and emotional close relationship between the primary caregiver and the child and serves to mould the personality of an individual (Fonagy, 2001). 

Attachment bonds can be characterized by four central elements. The first element is “immediacy to maintenance”. This is involves wanting to be closely involved physically with the attachment figure. The second element is separation distress; which can be characterized by anxiety when the attachment figure is absent.  The third element is safe haven; which can be characterized by an individual seeking refuge in the hands of attachment figure when in trouble, threatened or when engulfed with anxiety. The fourth element is called base secure. Here the attachment figure provides the basis from which the child can explore environment surrounding him. In other words the individual confidently explores the world around him knowing that the attachment figure will always be there to offer protection in case of danger (Williams and Thomas, 2004).  

Researchers have suggested that attachment relation usually undergo continuous evolution for two years and beyond but early attachment relations are significant in molding the behavior of an individual because they coincide with a period when an infant is undergoing rapid neurological development. Since infants are not in a position to regulate their own emotions or arousals, they will heavily rely on the help of the parent or caregivers in this process. This means that the way an infant learns to control his or her emotions will greatly depend on the manner in which the caregivers or parents helps them to do so. Research has further shown that there is a great connection between the attachment status of the caregiver and the attachment of the infant with that particular caregiver and this eventually finds a reflection in the personality of the infant in course of development.  

Attachment styles

The attachment theory is based on various attachment styles that influence our addictive personality. These attachments styles serve as frameworks that mold our personality and define our interpersonal relations. People with different attachment representations have been found to possess distinct personality and interpersonal relations. The following attachments styles play a critical role in defining addictive behavior in an individual:

Secure attachment:  This is one of the strongest attachments and is based on knowing that one can depend on parents, partners or providers. In other words this attachment is developed on the notion that important people will always be there when an individual needs them. An individual who is securely attached feels distressed when the person is not around and they are happy when the persons are with them. For instance children feel secure and able to depend on adult care takers. When these adult caretakers leaves, the children will feel upset but they feel assured that the caretakers or parents will return. When individuals who are securely attached are frightened, they will always seek comfort and protection from their parents or caretakers. These individuals are know that their parents or caretakers are always be there in their times of need (Ainsworth, 1978).  

Secure attachments form an indispensable part in development of a child. An infant who fails to have secured attachments in their early lives will always be negatively affected in their behavior in their later childhood lives and in their entire lives. Therefore this style of attachment is the most adaptive and for a child to become securely attached, the mother or caregiver must be always available for the child and be in a position to satisfy the needs of the child in a responsive and appropriate manner. When the a parents are loving to their children and treat them with respect, the children grow up knowing that they are lovable and expect that others will be nice to them just like their parents. These children also acquire skills through interpersonal interactions that enable them to effectively built relations and to meet their interpersonal and affectionate needs in prosocial ways. In other words, this attachment style gives rise to individuals who have high self esteem and with good interpersonal relation (Ainsworth, 1978).  

Avoidance attachment: This type of attachment occurs when an individual feels not secure because they have learnt that depending on others will not help them in realizing the feeling of security. Therefore because of this, they start learning ways of taking care of themselves in their own way and withdraw from seeking help from others. Children with avoidant attachment will always tend to avoid their parents or caregivers. These individuals view caregivers or parents from the same perspective as they would have viewed a stranger. Studies have suggested that this kind of attachment usually come into play when the parents or caretakers are abusive and neglectful to children placed under their care. This means that when children are punished by their parents or caregivers for seeking their help, in future they will try to avoid them when confronted with a similar problem. A child who is has anxious-avoidant attachment therefore tend to avoid or ignore the caretaker or the mother. The child shows little emotions when the mother or caregiver leaves or returns. Therefore it can be argued that when caregivers are consistently not available and are unresponsive puts the child in a stressful and traumatic situation. This neglectful and abusive behavior of the caregiver makes the child to believe that he is unlovable and that others cannot be trusted. This child grows up to become an individual who lacks self confidence and necessary social skills. Moreover, a child with this kind of attachment grows to become an individual who lacks exploration and is reversed and will always retreat when confronted with a problem. He will be secretive and will always prefer keeping problems to himself (Hesse, 2004).  

Ambivalent attachment:  This type of attachment is based on an individual not being sure of something. This makes an individual to be insecurely attached to others who deem significant or to parents. Experts argue that individuals who are considered to be ambivalently attached have acknowledged that sometimes needs are met and sometimes they are not. These individuals persistently continue seeking that secure link that they feel erratically. Therefore it can be argued that children who are ambivalently attached become very distressed when their parents or care givers are not around. A child who is anxious-ambivalent insecurely attached is always anxious of exploration.  Research has shown that this kind of attachment is least common and affects between seven to fifteen percent of children in the US. Researchers have suggested that this kind of attachment is usually caused by poor maternal availability; therefore the children cannot depend on their mother or caregivers to be available when they are in need. Some scholars also argue that this kind of attachment can develop from a mothering style which is occupied and who pays attention to the needs of the child only when it is convenient for her to do so. In other words, the child`s needs are overlooked until a certain activity is completed and the child only gets attention through the needs of the parent than from initiation by the child. This kind of child grows to develop behaviors such as being hyper-vigilant for any signs of threat or rejection and a individuals who are not in able to get what they require or need from another person (Hesse, 2004).  

Disorganized attachment:  Disorganized attachment is where individual do not know what they should anticipate from others. Disorganized attachment is mainly existent with the parents and organized attachment is found with others. This suggests that an individual devise ways of realizing their needs even if they might not be the best. These individuals have learnt what they can expect from their parents in different situation and they will tend to share things that they know their parents will react positively and go to others when they know that their parents are likely to react negatively. These individuals know how they will interact with their parents to get the desired response.  This style of attachment is characterized by absence of a coherent pattern or style of coping.  Studies suggest that children with disorganized attachment experienced their care givers as frightening and frightened.  In this kind of attachment human interactions are experienced as erratic consequently children are not able to form a coherent pattern (Shaver, & Mikulincer, 2002).  

Attachment theory and addictive behavior

Social-environment provides the basis to development of addictive behavior. Researchers have argued that this is determined by our orientation to life. Addictive personality develops long even before we finish our early childhood development. Many researchers have concurred that human beings have a mind of their own when they are born and that our basic personality and orientation in life is usually developed between 24 weeks to 24 months. It has been found out that majority of the children start showing their first specific attachment at the age of six to eight months, fear of strangers one month later and then develops strong initial attachment to key figure in their lives especially the mothers, (Simpson and Rholes, 2007).  Studies have suggested that social elements form indispensable premises in determining our early development. These social interactions in fact start to mould our personality even before we are born. Researchers argue that the health behavior of the mother, her interests and motivation and her parenting competence act together with hormonal and genetic factors in influencing prenatal development of the fetus. Experts have argued that infant attachment styles play a critical role in determining their addictive behavior in their later lives and that the attachment theory envisages the addictive predispositions (Shaver, & Mikulincer, 2002).  

According Ainsworth (1978) children who are ambivalent and avoidant sought attachment but later experience anxiety in the process. Ainsworth explains that both avoidant and ambivalent attachments usually are characterized by anxiety as result of the mother being absent from the infant for a long time, and when they are reunited these children become difficult to soothe. Ainsworth further explains that children who are disorganized usually become ambivalent upon reunion with their attachment figure who had been absent in most their lives, both approaching and avoiding contact.

Several attempts have been made by scholars to explain how attachments come into play in ones’ personality. For instance according to Schore (2003) during development of the brain of an infant there exist an interaction between the brain of the parent or caregiver and that of the child. During development the processes of the right brain are involved integrally in the attachment and in development of the self. Schore argues that parenting has a great impact in determining attachment status of a child. For instance Schore says that insensitive parenting leads to dysregulated emotional patterns in the life of an individual both at childhood and later in life.   

Researchers have found out that attachments held by children progresses to their adulthood. As children grow to adults, the continuity of attachment behavior continues to become explicit. For instance secure children with secure attachment have been found to grow and become secure or autonomous adults. Children who are characterized by avoidant attachment and are anxious grow to become adults who are dismissive in nature. On the other hand children who are anxious and characterized by ambivalent attachments grow to become adults who are preoccupied in their lives. Also it has been found that children who have disorganized attachment grow to become adults who are disorganized and unresolved (Shaver & Mikulincer, 2002).  

Researchers have suggested there is a very high probability that the attachment status of a given prospective parent will greatly determine the kind of attachment that will exit between the parent and the child. Studies have further suggested that although there might be changes overtime that can influence the attachment status of a child, there is exist a very high degree of continuity in childhood attachment, adolescent attachments and adulthood attachments. Experts have further argued that the addictive behavior related to alcohol and drugs, experimental and abstaining behaviors can also be determined by attachment (Slade, 1999).  This means that the way individuals will continue to manage anxiety in their lives in the same way they used to do so in their early lives and this will continue unless intervened with other experiences or change in circumstances. Moreover research has found out those adults who are characterized by unsecure state of the mind with regard to attachment usually experience a lot of difficulties generally in managing their lives and their interpersonal relations with others than those who are characterized by secure attachment (Bretherton, & Sherman, 1989).  

According to Foragy (2001), secured attachment can be explained as the capability of an individual to reflect on his internal emotional experience, and try to make sense of it and at the same time reflect on the mind of another. On the other hand individuals who are characterized by unsecured attachment lack this reflective element something that can be attributed to their repressed or exacerbated emotional responses. Therefore they are not able to reflect on their own internal experiences or that of the other. In other words, the reflective capacity of these individuals is compromised.

Implications of attachments on behavior

The attachment theory provides the basis from which we can understand and examine the effect that early experiences can have on later adjustments in the life of an individual. For instance this theory tends to establish how early experiences with the parents or caregivers undergo transformation into internal mental representations in childhood and adolescence and in life as an adult. Experts argue that internal models of attachment are composed of beliefs about the self and others from which rules used to guide behavior are derived (Slade, 1999).  

Experts argue that these attachment representations affect the behavior of an individual by influencing the magnitude of emotional experience and attempts of emotional regulation that will follow. The attachment theory provides a framework from which specific predictions can be made regarding quality of early experiences with parents or caretakers and the impact of these experiences on the future behavior and relationships by an individual. Studies suggest that the internal working models of attachments are built following repeated associations and interactions with the caregivers or parents. These models are derived from the way caretakers respond during times of stress. Therefore it can be argued that these internal representations provides frameworks that serve as filters that serve to define the future relations and experience in an individual (Slade, 1999). For instance supportive and responsive behaviors portrayed by caregivers are likely to instill secure attachment representations in an individual. Individuals who have this kind of representation are characterized by openness to emotional experience and their readiness to engage in emotional regulation that is both creative and productive. On the other hand when caretakers are not supportive during childhood life of an individual creates an individual who is dismissive in nature. Experts argue that these individuals are characterized by their tendency to emotionally distance themselves from others and also tend to rely greatly on the self than others. Also when caretakers give support that in not consistent during childhood will create individuals who are preoccupied in nature. These individuals are characterized by their persistent anxiety towards their interpersonal relations and they will always view life from negative perspective (Cicirelli, 2000).

Researchers have argued that attachment representations show projecting connections with a variety of pathological behaviors, personality disorders, and psychopathy and mood disturbances. For instance some researchers have found that there is a high correlation between substance abuse among the adolescents and adolescents who are classified as dismissive nature than with adolescents who are classified as preoccupied. Studies have further shown that there are low rates of illicit substance abuse among individuals classified as secured than individuals who are either classified as either preoccupied or dismissive (Sroufe, 2005).

Many studies have been carried out to consolidate the belief that patterns that occur during our childhood have a great impact in defining our future relations. It has been found out that people with different attachment styles experience different kind of relationships; they also have differing views on relationships. For instance is has been argued that adults with secured attachments tend to believe that romantic love is lasting. Individuals who are ambivalently attached often report falling in love.  People who are have avoidant attachment tend to perceive love as something that is rare and temporarily. Research has also shown that individuals with secure attachments tend to be happier in life and are usually positively oriented with regard to self and others. Also studies suggest that anxious ambivalent adults usually experience a lot of difficulties in maintaining relationships for instance their love relationships is usually characterized by a lot of obsession. Just like anxious ambivalent individuals, avoidant adults have also been found to experience a lot of difficulties in relationships and are characterized by the most negative self models than any group (Kobak & Sceery, 1998).  


The attachment theory plays a critical role in influencing the addictive behavior of an individual. According to attachment theory, the behavior and interpersonal relations are influenced through four major attachments styles: secured attachments, ambivalent attachments, avoidant attachments and disorganized attachment. These attachments form different internal working models that shape our emotions and in the process define our personality and interpersonal relations. Early childhood attachments play a very indispensable role in predicting addictive behaviors that will be exhibited by an individual later in life. This has been supported by a number of researches that have shown that there is a great degree of continuity in childhood attachments, adolescent attachments and adulthood attachments. Therefore the kind of attachment one has during childhood greatly determines what kind of attachments he will have in his later life and the kind of person he will be.  

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