Understanding and Navigating Attachment Styles in Addiction Treatment

October 9, 2023
Adj Prof Dr Prem Kumar Shanmugam

This article explores the world of attachment styles and their connection to addiction. We will define attachment styles, discuss the four main types, and explore how they relate to addictive behaviors. We'll then delve into their role in treatment and recovery, concluding with a focus on how Solace Asia addresses attachment issues in its treatment approach. Join us as we navigate this fascinating intersection of psychology and addiction recovery.

What are Attachment Styles?

Attachment styles are deeply ingrained patterns that significantly influence how we form and sustain relationships throughout our lives. These styles take root during our early developmental years, and our interactions with primary caregivers play a crucial role in molding them. Pioneered by British psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby, and further developed by psychologist Mary Ainsworth, attachment theory has become a cornerstone of understanding human relationships. The theory argues that our initial experiences with caregivers shape not just our behaviors, but also our expectations, trust, and perceptions in relationships, from infancy through adulthood.

This understanding of attachment styles becomes particularly crucial when we explore the field of addiction. Often, disrupted or insecure attachment can act as a potent underlying factor contributing to substance misuse. Substance abuse and addiction are complex issues, with roots often embedded in a tangle of psychological, social, and biological factors. Among these, the psychological impact of attachment styles has been increasingly recognized for the role it plays. As such, acknowledging and addressing these attachment styles is an integral component of a comprehensive approach to treating addiction.

The Four Attachment Styles

Broadly, there are four Attachment Styles: Secure, Anxious-Preoccupied, Dismissive-Avoidant, and Fearful-Avoidant.

  1. Secure Attachment

Securely attached individuals, having had consistent and reliable interactions with caregivers in their early years, develop a positive view of themselves and others. They're comfortable with intimacy and aren't afraid of being alone. Secure individuals tend to have high self-esteem, engage in healthy social interactions, and maintain long-lasting relationships. They have a balanced approach to relationships, neither avoiding intimacy nor being overly anxious about the relationship status. Symptoms of this attachment style include: 

  • Ability to share feelings with partners and friends
  • Ability to seek support from partners and friends
  • Comfort in depending on others and having others depend on them
  • Positive view of themselves and their relationships

  1. Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment

People with an anxious-preoccupied attachment style often seek high levels of intimacy, approval, and responsiveness from their partners. They are known for being overly dependent and demanding, resulting from their fear of, and sensitivity to, rejection. They need constant reassurance and approval from their partners to alleviate their self-doubt, making their relationships fraught with worry and dependence. Their underlying driving fear is that their partner doesn't love them enough, and they constantly seek signs to confirm this fear. Symptoms of this attachment style include: 

  • Fear of abandonment or being alone
  • Tendency to become overly dependent on the partner
  • Need for constant reassurance and validation
  • High emotional responsiveness, often leading to emotional outbursts

  1. Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment

Dismissive-avoidant individuals are just the opposite. They're characterized by a strong sense of independence and self-sufficiency, preferring not to rely on others or let others rely on them. They tend to suppress and hide their feelings, maintaining a distance from their partners. Their self-view is positive, but their view of others is quite negative, often resulting in them avoiding close relationships. They might appear emotionally distant and unresponsive to their partners' needs. Symptoms of this attachment style include: 

  • Difficulty in sharing feelings and emotions with partners
  • High value on independence and self-sufficiency
  • Discomfort with intimacy and closeness
  • Tendency to isolate themselves emotionally from their partner

  1. Fearful-Avoidant Attachment

The fearful-avoidant attachment style is complex, as individuals with this style have mixed feelings about close relationships. They desire close relationships but feel uncomfortable getting too intimate. They might distrust their partner or fear being hurt, driving them to avoid intimate relationships. These individuals struggle with fluctuating between extremes – wanting closeness and intimacy but also desiring to push their partner away. Symptoms Include:

  • Fear of intimacy and isolation
  • Difficulty in trusting and relying on others
  • Emotional unpredictability
  • Negative view of themselves and their relationships.

Each of these attachment styles affects a person's behaviors, emotions, and relationships, playing a significant role in their susceptibility to addiction. By understanding and addressing these styles, addiction treatment can be more effective and tailored to individual needs

Ways to Cope with your Attachment Style 

While understanding your attachment style is the first step, learning how to cope with it effectively is equally important for personal growth and healthy relationships. Here are some general strategies:

  • Self-awareness: Start by acknowledging your attachment style and how it influences your behaviors and relationships. Self-reflection can help you identify patterns that you may wish to change.
  • Psychotherapy: Therapy can provide you with tools to understand your attachment style better and develop healthier coping mechanisms. Cognitive behavioral therapy, in particular, can help you challenge unhelpful thoughts and beliefs stemming from your attachment style.
  • Mindfulness and self-care: Practices like meditation, yoga, and regular exercise can help manage stress and promote emotional well-being, assisting you in forming healthier relationships.
  • Establish healthy relationships: Seek relationships with secure-attached individuals who can provide positive relationship experiences and models.
  • Patience and self-compassion: Change takes time, and it's okay to have setbacks. Remember to be patient with yourself throughout this journey and treat yourself with kindness and understanding.

Remember, while it's beneficial to know and understand your attachment style, it doesn't define you. With time, effort, and perhaps professional help, it's possible to shift towards more secure attachment patterns and healthier relationships.

Attachment Styles and Addiction

The connection between attachment styles and addiction is both profound and multifaceted. Our attachment style, defined early in our lives, can significantly influence our emotional development and interpersonal relationships, shaping our responses to stress, our ability to regulate emotions, and our likelihood of seeking and maintaining social support. It's these very factors that play a pivotal role in susceptibility to, development of, and recovery from addiction.

Insecure attachment styles—namely, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant—have been closely linked with a heightened vulnerability to addiction. The heightened emotional states characteristic of these styles, combined with the challenges these individuals face in forming supportive, stable relationships, often push them towards unhealthy coping mechanisms, including substance misuse.

Individuals with an anxious-preoccupied attachment style tend to experience chronic anxiety about their relationships, constantly fearing rejection or abandonment. This ongoing emotional turmoil can make substances appealing, as they can offer temporary relief from their intense emotional distress. Moreover, the deep-seated fear of being alone might make it challenging for these individuals to seek help, as they might fear the perceived stigma of addiction, leading to delayed or even foregone treatment.

People with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style, on the other hand, often suppress their emotions and distance themselves from others. This self-imposed isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness and emotional numbness, which substances might temporarily alleviate. Furthermore, their avoidance of emotional closeness can also make acknowledging their addiction and seeking help more difficult.

Those with a fearful-avoidant attachment style can oscillate between a desperate desire for closeness and an intense fear of it, leading to volatile relationships and intense emotional instability. This turmoil can make substances seem like a refuge, a place to escape the emotional confusion and instability that marks their relationships. However, this same instability can make the road to recovery rocky, as their fear of closeness can make forming the supportive relationships necessary for recovery challenging.

A growing body of research affirms these links between insecure attachment styles and addiction, further emphasizing the importance of addressing attachment issues in addiction treatment. By understanding and addressing these underlying attachment issues, we can better tailor treatment to the individual, enhancing its effectiveness and making a lasting recovery a more attainable goal

The Role of Attachment in Treatment and Recovery

Understanding an individual's attachment style is a critical component of addiction treatment and recovery. Recognizing these styles influences how treatment is approached, by aiding in the development of healthier coping strategies, improved emotional regulation, and more supportive interpersonal relationships. By factoring in an individual's attachment style, treatment can be tailored to provide targeted support that addresses core issues effectively.

The treatment methods employed can vary depending on the identified attachment style. Those with anxious-preoccupied attachment might benefit from therapies aimed at managing relationship anxiety and fostering more secure relationship patterns, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy. For individuals with dismissive-avoidant or fearful-avoidant attachment, different therapeutic approaches like psychodynamic therapy, emotion-focused therapy, or trauma-focused therapies may be more beneficial. Group therapy, too, is a valuable tool across all attachment styles for exploring patterns and forming secure relationships.

Finally, understanding attachment styles can help anticipate and address potential challenges in treatment. For instance, individuals with insecure attachment might struggle with trust or emotional intensity during therapy. Being able to predict these issues allows clinicians to address them proactively, thereby enhancing the effectiveness of the treatment. After treatment, attachment styles continue to impact individuals' recovery process, with those having secure attachments often better able to seek and maintain social support. Hence, helping individuals work towards a more secure attachment style during treatment can promote better recovery outcomes.

Solace Asia's Approach to Addressing Attachment Issues

At Solace Asia, we recognize the importance of addressing attachment styles in our treatment approach. By developing a thorough understanding of each client's attachment style, we can devise personalized strategies to help them navigate their attachment issues. For instance, through techniques like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), we help our clients identify and modify patterns of thinking that result from maladaptive attachment styles.


The exploration of attachment styles opens a deeper understanding of human relationships and the root of addictive behaviors. Understanding one's attachment style is an essential step towards healing, especially for individuals struggling with addiction. It provides insights into the dynamics of their relationships and their reactions to situations, helping to craft a tailor-made treatment approach.

In summary:

  • Attachment styles, developed early in life, play a significant role in how we form and maintain relationships throughout our lives.
  • Anxious, dismissive, and fearful attachment styles can contribute to the onset and perpetuation of addictive behaviors. Each style presents a unique set of symptoms that can influence one's relationship with substances.
  • Recognizing and understanding attachment styles can help tailor addiction treatments, contributing to more successful and long-lasting recovery. Addressing attachment issues within therapy can lead to substantial improvements in an individual's interpersonal relationships and overall wellbeing.
  • At Solace Asia, we incorporate an understanding of attachment styles into our holistic treatment approach. We help our clients to understand their attachment patterns, enabling them to build healthier relationships and work towards sustainable recovery.

As we wrap up this discussion, we want to remind everyone that it's okay to seek help. Understanding your attachment style and its impact on your life can be a complex and emotional journey, but you don't have to do it alone. Solace Asia is here to provide professional help. Please reach out if you or a loved one is struggling with addiction. We're here to help, and we believe in your ability to heal and thrive.

For more information about our services, please contact us. Our team is ready to provide the help and support you need on your journey to recovery.

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