Addiction as an Attachment Disorder


In the complex tapestry of human experience, addiction often emerges as a silent echo of unmet needs and relational rupture. Beyond the surface struggles with substances or behaviours lies a deeper narrative – addiction as an attachment disorder. In this post, the intricate interplay between addiction and attachment will be explored, clarifying the ties that bind them together.

Understanding Attachment:

At the heart of human relationships lies the concept of attachment. From the earliest moments of our lives, we form bonds with those who care for us, shaping the way we connect with others as we grow, and establishing our templates for relationship with others. Attachment is like an invisible thread that weaves through our lives, influenced by (and influencing) our felt sense of safety, security, belonging, and emotional well-being.

When Attachment Goes Awry:

Unfortunately, life doesn’t always unfold as smoothly as we’d like. For some, the early foundations of attachment may be disrupted by various factors such as trauma, neglect, or inconsistent caregiving. When these vital bonds are frayed or fractured, it can set the stage for an attachment disorder, leaving individuals with a sense of emptiness and a longing for connection.

Addiction as a Coping Mechanism:

Addiction can be best understood as a coping mechanism that often arises as an attempt to fill the void left by disrupted attachment. It’s like reaching for a makeshift, band-aid solution to mend a broken bond. Substances or behaviours become a substitute for the genuine connection and emotional fulfillment that might be missing, offering a temporary escape from the ache of unmet needs. In essence, we learn that we can’t depend upon people to support us through difficult feelings and instead we turn to substances or behaviours that can have a predictable effect on our mood as either an “upper” or a “downer” in a well-meaning but ultimately counterproductive effort to regulate our emotions.

Searching for Belonging:

The quest for belonging is a powerful motivator, and addiction can be seen as a misguided attempt to find a sense of home. The substance or behaviour becomes a “stand-in” attachment figure, providing a fleeting illusion of connection and reliable responsiveness. It’s a desperate search for a relationship where one feels understood, accepted, and soothed.

Breaking the Cycle:

Recovery from addiction involves more than just breaking free from substances; it requires a profound re-evaluation of attachment patterns. Therapy becomes a crucial space for individuals to explore the roots of attachment wounds, offering an opportunity to heal and rebuild healthier connections. It’s a process of understanding that the substance or behavioural addiction is only the tip of the iceberg and signifies the presence of a much deeper emotional wounding that requires repair through new relational experiences.

This is a central benefit of peer support meetings where attendees have the opportunity to practice forming new attachments and experiencing healing relational experiences if they are willing to open themselves up to this process and risking making themselves known to another person.

Rediscovering Healthy Attachment:

As individuals progress in their recovery journey, they embark on a path of rediscovering healthy attachment. Support groups, individual/group therapy, and rebuilding relationships become avenues for establishing authentic connections. It’s a transformative journey where individuals not only overcome addiction but also learn to forge meaningful, secure attachments that contribute to their overall well-being, and foster a new resilience.


In framing addiction as an attachment disorder, we shift the narrative from blame to understanding. It becomes a story of adaptation, survival, and the deep-seated human longing for connection. By acknowledging the ties between addiction and disrupted attachment, we pave the way for a more compassionate and holistic approach to recovery—one that addresses not only the symptoms but the underlying emotional landscape. In the process of untangling these intricate ties, individuals can rediscover a sense of belonging and forge connections that nourish and promote lasting healing. Recovery becomes a process of learning to become more human and to live more fully.

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