Attachment during childhood, particularly infancy, establishes how a person views relationships and intimacy later in life. If a child experiences a healthy attachment with their caregiver, they usually consider relationships to be safe, comfortable and stable and feel confident exploring the world around them. Insecure attachments, however, can lead to understated or exaggerated reactions to stress, as well as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse.

The Four Attachment Styles

There are four different attachment styles, the results of which become more pronounced during adulthood:

  • Secure attachment: The caregiver meets the child’s needs, resulting in trust and a healthy dependence. For example, when the parent leaves the room, the infant may become discontent and start crying, but upon the parent’s return, they’re soothed and learn that their caregiver will always return to meet their needs. As adults, those with secure attachment styles are more likely to feel comfortable with intimacy and trust their partner because they feel safe and comfortable in themselves. They usually have healthier family relationships too.
  • Anxious/preoccupied: If a parent is nurturing and available one moment and gone the next, it’s confusing for the child and can result in an anxious attachment. The infant seeks their caregiver’s attention, but they are distrustful at the same time. Their insecurity about having their needs met consistently can lead to clinginess and fear when their caregiver is out of sight. Adults often have an intense need for close relationships, intimacy in romantic relationships and approval.
  • Fearful/avoidant: Fearful avoidant attachment style is a child whose cries or needs go unattended to on a consistent basis learns that communicating with their caregiver won’t make a difference, so they stop seeking their attention altogether. The child will avoid the caregiver entirely or show little or no reaction when the caregiver enters or exits a room. Avoidant behavior maintains conditional proximity, meaning the child feels close enough to their caregiver to feel safe and protected, but far away enough to avoid rejection. Those with fearful/avoidant attachment styles often value their independence and freedom more than a relationship as an adult. Although they may want close relationships, they aren’t comfortable with intimacy.
  • Dismissive/avoidant: Dismissive avoidant attachment characteristics is a catch-all for children who do not fall under the other attachment categories. The dismissive/avoidant attachment style is often experienced by children who were raised in unstable environments where they were abused or mistreated at the hands of their caregiver. Adults may be highly independent and not place importance on emotional intimacy with others, but are very concerned with their partner’s availability.

Insecure Attachment Styles & Substance Abuse

An insecure attachment is any attachment style that is not secure. Anxious/preoccupied, fearful/avoidant and dismissive/avoidant attachment styles can lead to several issues that can influence substance use, including:

  • Difficulty forming social relationships
  • Lack of supportive, healthy relationships
  • A dysfunctional, inaccurate view of self

Although the correlation between attachment style and substance use isn’t clear, research suggests those with an insecure attachment style may use drugs or alcohol to cope with stress rather than other healthy coping mechanisms, such as confiding in a loved one.

Recovery Starts With Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

Addiction does not occur in a vacuum, so if you seek treatment for addiction, you need to be sure you choose a program that will also help you address underlying mental health issues that can lead to addiction, which include insecure attachment.

Therapy can help you:

  • Come to terms with grief and trauma that stems from childhood experience.
  • Identify unhealthy thought patterns and beliefs and establish healthier ones.
  • Acquire effective interpersonal communication skills to more accurately express emotions and needs.
  • Experience a healthy, positive attachment style with the therapist.

Guardian IOP utilizes cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and individual and group therapy to help our clients address the underlying causes of addiction and set healthier, more positive intentions. To learn more about our evidence-based addiction recovery programs, contact a Guardian Treatment Advisor at 855.517.1871.


Reviewed for accuracy by:

Anna earned her Masters of Social Work at Barry University in Miami, FL in 2017 and completed her internship in co-occurring disorders. Anna has a Bachelors of Art in Religious Studies from Naropa University and is a certified yoga and meditation instructor. Anna has received specialized training in somatic counseling with an emphasis on body-centered psychotherapy.