In the last 40 years, there has been significant attention given to the early years of an individual’s life, noting that the type of attachment that an infant has with his or her primary caregiver will have a significant effect on later life. For some, if these early attachments were tumultuous, if they were shaky or unstable, it could lead to less than sober living later. It could lead to addiction and alcoholism. Finding sober help for some has meant going all the way back in time, digging for those memories – if it’s comfortable enough – and exploring whether those early parental attachments need healing.
Essentially, in the 1960’s, psychiatrist John Bowlby developed the attachment theory based on his study of the difficulties that homeless and orphaned children experience. The theory’s main premise is that an infant must develop a strong bond with at least one primary caregiver in order to appropriately develop socially and emotionally.
In order for this bond to become secure between infant and caregiver, the following must happen:
- The caregiver must be responsive and sensitive in the way that he or she responds to the infant.
- The child must be able to consistently rely on the caregiver for soothing in times of stress.
- The caregiver must remain a constant in the child’s life from the 6 months to approximately 2 years of age.
Bowlby’s research led to the understanding that infants will attach to parents who are consistent in their care giving throughout many months during early childhood. As children develop they will begin to use the attachment with their caregiver as a secure base from which they will move away to explore their environment and then later return. The way that caregivers respond to their children during this process can lead to distinct patterns of attachment, which in turn, lead to an internal model for that child, which he or she will unconsciously use in later relationships.
It is well recognized now that attachment is a core issue that determines whether a child will thrive. The first five years of life determines the success of that child in school, work, and in relationships. Those children who have had secure attachments are well equipped to go out into the world and are able to succeed. Those with poor attachments to their caregivers, due to trauma, neglect, or abandonment, will likely be anxious, fearful, and withdrawn.
These are the children who will likely develop an alcohol or drug addiction later in life. Those who experience high levels of stress and anxiety may self-medicate with drugs, sex, gambling, alcohol, or other types of addiction.
Essentially, the child with a poor attachment with his or her caregiver will later become the adult who uses drugs as a way to manage the anxiety or other intense emotions. That child might later become the adult with a life-long struggle with addiction.
For this reason, finding sober help, finding help with sobriety, might mean going back into childhood and uncovering those needs that were never met. Getting sober help might mean becoming aware of those needs in order to perhaps get them met in ways that are healthy and life affirming versus destructive, which is the case with addiction.
Recognizing the role that an individual’s primary attachment plays in life can perhaps facilitate the prevention of alcohol and drug use in adults. Certainly, attachment theory can also be applied to treatment, using information about an individual’s early life to facilitate insight and change.
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