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.
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.
Essentially, his 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.
However, those with poor attachments to their caregivers, due to trauma, neglect, or abandonment, will likely be anxious, fearful, and withdrawn. And these are the children who are more likely to develop an alcohol or drug addiction. Those who experience high levels of stress and anxiety will tend to 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 likely later use drugs as a way to manage the anxiety or other intense emotions and who later may develop a life-long struggle 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 those who may be vulnerable to it. Certainly, attachment theory can also be applied to treatment provided at sober living facilities, using information about an individual’s early life to facilitate change. Furthermore, a sober living home can provide education on attachment theory in order to invoke insight about how an addiction may have started in the first place. Experiencing insight and learning about one’s life is an essential ingredient to healing.
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