Is My Neediness linked to My Insecure Attachment?

I don’t know about you but I have previously been described on occasion, and still can be, as being a bit needy, a bit grasping of affection, a bit manipulative in attempting to coerce others into given me attention, affection and so on.

It is not a trait that I particularly like in my self. I believe it is directly linked to my insecure attachment based on an uncertain, unpredictable and sometimes conditional relationship I had with my mother, in particular.

My mother was affectionate at times, distant at others. You could never really count on her being there for you.

Her affection  seemed dependent (conditional) on how she felt. Given that she was probably experiencing some form of mental breakdown and had already started taking the Valium that would in later years become full blown dependence would explain her ambivalence to me and my emotional needs.

I have forgiven my mother for her many omissions but that does not mean that this forgiveness has resolved my attachment issues or heal the emotional pain I have been scarred with.

I still live with the consequence of these emotional scars and they still impact on my life, behaviour and recovery today. In fact, the longer I am in recovery the more I become aware of internal battles that I re-enact in my daily life with people in general life often playing the role of my primary care giver. I fight the same fights over and over again but with different people and in different scenarios.

The long term s consequences are also a lack of trust in others, an a time emotional ambivalence to others, a low self esteem, a feeling of “I’m not good enough” and whatever I do, “enough is never enough” This is why I think insecure attachment may be a good reason for the knawing feeling many of us have that we are not good enough, that we are lacking, that we are less than, that are missing something very important. That we have no secure internal base. Instead we have this “hole in the soul”.



I fight injustice constantly. I fight bullies. I have real difficulties with feelings of rejection, even seeming rejection from people I do not particularly like, respect or admire. Thus it is not a cortical, conscious process, it is a pre-progammed emotional response to rejection per se.

I am constantly trying to be good enough, better than good enough, the best if possible. To measure up. Be the Number One guy, just like Bill Wilson who had similar problems with his mother to me. Internally I am constantly trying to show the world I am good enough, deserving enough of their love, respect and affection, often when I consciously have no real desire for these things, from these people.

It is a continual re-enactment of the efforts I made, often unsuccessfully with my mother. My early childhood has habitualised my behaviours and emotional reactions to the world. I must have found my mother’s behaviours unjust also hence my constant fighting of perceived injustice, although I am well aware of the 12 step plea not to fight anyone or anything.

Easier said than done, for me.

What I am trying to say, I guess, is that I have become aware that I am fighting the same psychic battles over and over again. The adult child is still in turmoil, reaching out for unconditional affection.

I have found that unconditional love in a Higher Power but in my illness I relapse back to this emotional insobriety.

I have recovered though. I am sane enough to know that I have other issues that  have partly driven my addictive behaviours. They have created emotional disturbance and dysfunction which “sharing” my experience with others has increasingly helped self soothe.

Anyway back to my sometimes evident emotional immaturity.

I have studied neuroscience for a number of years and see that it offers a great facility for challenging existing views about addiction and contributing to the greater arguments and debates about causes and consequences of addiction but I am also aware that it does not have all the answers and that it can veer towards reductionist views and reductionist solutions such as giving drugs to addicts to help with behavioural manifestations of addiction which can be bizarre at times.

Bizarre because the manifestations of addiction are more complex that observable neuro-biological processes in the brain. Attachment theory highlights this issue for me. It may impact on neuro-biology and neural plasticity of the brain but it is not necessarily the product of these. It can not be “cured” bu purely chemical means.

It seems that it can only be resolved by re-applying behaviours that were missing in the first place. In this case, earned attachment via various group therapeutic groups can help with the consequences of insecure attachment experienced in early childhood.   In other words these more adaptive behaviours can help you “manage” the maladaptive behavioural patterns ingrained in one’s brain.

We need other people not drugs or medications in other words. We tried that, it did not work. Love is what we need, we are designed, to give and receive it.

It is a fundamental force in helping develop a healthy brain.

Via neuroscience, I have never been able to get an angle on two vital aspects of my addictive personality. The “hole in the soul” what is it, where does it come from, how can it be explained? The other is why I collapse to needy behaviours?

Attachment disorders explain this for me. It also also explains the constantly fighting. Trauma also has a part to play. I grew up in a very violent, traumatising place. This can also lead to constant fighting. Constant emotional reactivty.

While in SELF, I hasten to add.


Equally I have found a solution to all these problems. I am generally contented, happy in my own skin. I did not used to be. Now I am. I have much love that I share with those around me. I can also receive it, mostly. I have found what I have been looking for. Love.

I have faith that all my scars will heal in time as so many already.

The results of the study we cite and take excerpts form (1) showed that there is significant difference in attachment styles and emotional maturity between opiate addicts and non-addicts. The results revealed that addicts usually have insecure attachment styles while non-addicts have secure styles. Besides, addicts enjoyed a lower level of emotional maturity compared with non-addicts.

“Addicts suffer from negative and inflexible emotions so that they are often fraught with anger, resentment and hatred. They
also suffer from loss of love, joy and intimacy. They may have not experienced hope and love for a long time. This exposes them to a serious emotional vacuum which must be dealt with in a
treatment process. A typical problem with addicts is their lack of emotional maturity and propensity to self-alienation and dependency disorder which causes a universal sense of fear and
mental insecurity.

A thirty-year old addict may perform like a ten-year old adolescent in terms of emotional functioning because most of the addicts have been forced into adulthood before they could have experienced childhood. That is because both society and family have not given them the opportunity to grow emotionally so that they have been confined within the walls of emotional crudity and feel insecure towards the outside world. Evidently, they need support to be
able to escape the confinement and interact with their environment, which requires them to be dependent on others [11].

Addicts suffer from severe feelings of disillusionment with their mothers. Mother’s disregard for the child’s emotional needs causes disruption in children’s self-regulatory processes and consequently
damages their mental structure of internal behavioral control. As a result, they will become dependent on external mediums like drugs to compensate for their emotional deficiencies.
Therefore, their harmful experiences of childhood in regard to disillusionment with their mothers may be drawn upon to account for the mechanisms which influence attachment styles.
Accordingly, mothers’ disregard for children’s emotional needs may justify the prevalence of insecure attachment styles in these children [1].

Research has shown that insecure attachment style contributes to the development of mental disorders. Developed at early childhood, insecure attachment is a risk factor for drug abuse and may also influence the treatment of drug abuse disorder. Using Hazan and Shaver adult attachment interview (AAI), Taracena et al (2006) reported that there is positive correlation between drug abuse and avoidant attachment styles. Hankin et al. (2007) conducted a study at the University of Illinois and reported that there is positive correlation between insecure attachment styles and smoking, alcohol use and marijuana use. In a follow-up research in the same
university, the results showed that there is a significant positive correlation between anxious attachment style and the prevalence of stimulant drug use, smoking and alcohol use. Haward and
Medway investigated the relationship between attachment styles, coping styles, life stresses and due responses in 75 couples. They reported that with secure styles, adults’ attachments are positively correlated with family relations but negatively correlated with negative social behavior including alcohol use, smoking and/or drug use [3].

Therefore, attachment styles can influence drug abuse disorders through the processes of familial interaction, social control, emotional regulation and self-efficacy. Marlatt et al. (2002)
investigated the factors contributing to the frequent relapse of addition and reported that encounters with negative emotions and events are most effective in addiction relapse. It seems
that insecure individuals more frequently resort to drug use as a self-treatment mechanism to relieve their negative emotions and experiences comparing with secure individuals. Shakibaie
(2000) studied 137 people and reported that 91.3% of the participants suffered from at least one mental disorder. Accordingly, 68.7% of the participants experienced decreased libido, 59.3% had
hypersomnia, 58.7% suffered from major depression and 24.7% suffered from apprehension.
Therefore, in line with previous studies, the present research aims to investigate the relationship between attachment styles and emotional maturity in both addicts and non-addicts.

Hogan and Roberts (1998) contended that immature emotional
behavior includes: impulsive behavior, fuzzy temper, impatience in facing failures, incongruence between specific visual stimuli and responses, inability to forgive others, and too much dependence on others. The present findings showed that there is significant difference in attachment styles between opiate addicts and non-addicts,  that addicts suffer from lack of emotional maturity more than do non-addicts. In
addition, the difference between addicts and non-addicts was significant in all the subscales of emotional immaturity.

Torberg and Lyvers (2005) investigated the relationship between attachment, fear of intimacy and differentiation of self in 158 volunteers including 99 individuals registered in an addiction treatment program. As expected, the patients under treatment who suffered from alcoholism, heroin dependency, amphetamines dependency, cocaine or hashish abuse reported high levels of insecure attachment, fear of intimacy and low levels of secure attachment and differentiation of self comparing with the control group.

Insecure attachment, fear of intimacy and differentiation of self may indicate vulnerability of drug abuse.

Besharat (2007) reported that there is significant difference in attachment styles between Iranian drug addicts and non-addicts. There were also significant negative and significant positive
correlations between the severity of drug dependency with secure and insecure attachment styles, respectively. Consequently, attachment styles can influence dependency on drugs through the
processes of familial interactions, social control, emotional regulation and self-efficacy.




1.  Mortazavi, Zeinab, Faramarz Sohrabi, and Hamid Reza Hatami. “Comparison of attachment styles and emotional maturity between opiate addicts and non-addicts.” 



  1. lucy2610 · December 5, 2014

    So not surprised to read the research findings Paul. I’m studying at Cambridge and when considering insecure attachment our tutor was talking about looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and at whatever the level of lack is manifesting you go to the level below to address that first to be able to then allow healing to take place (this is in relation to working with children and adolescents). This made sense to me and somehow seemed relevant to here – but now I’m not so sure!!

    • alcoholicsguide · December 6, 2014

      interesting Lucy although I am not sure about Maslow, interesting cap but his methodology has been criticized and he had a tiny sample on which to base his later conclusions!? The neediness I refer to is a hardwired into the brain sense of lacking – it may have a neurochemical expression int the brain, e.g. too much stress chemical not enough natural opioid, dopamine, serotonin etc and/or be ingrained or to quote an American researcher “concretized” in neural networks governed habitualised behavioural response. It is here nonetheless whatever form it takes. Self Schemas are stored in a similar area of the brain to habitualised response and implicit memory. The blog is also about emotional immaturity which for me is like an echoing scream from childhood – distressed at not receiving what it needs, so repeatedly continues to ask for this in maladaptive ways throughout adulthood. I do find this stuff plausible and a bit mind blowing too. It makes me feel a bit uncomfortable so must be near the truth as only the truth normally does that in this way, :-/

      • lucy2610 · December 6, 2014

        Never knew that about Maslow’s research so thank you 🙂 I can be guilty of over-intellectualising the issue I’m looking at so that it is not the right aesthetic distance to feel anything. If I start to feel uncomfortable then it tells me the aesthetic distance is too close and I’m getting overwhelmed. I think that’s why going in at the level below can be safer as if you’ve got the more basic stuff right then we can cope with the more emotional triggery stuff and explains HALT very well 🙂

  2. alcoholicsguide · December 6, 2014

    I agree – if I ask myself very basic questions, like am I distressed etc and the answer is yes, the next answer is to let go of what ever is distressing me. It is about managing my condition. It doesn’t seem to return naturally to balance so I have to impose some balance, serenity, call it what you will. For me the absence of distress is happiness. I am two different people when in distress and when not. I know which one I, and others, like best. 🙂

  3. addictedtosobriety · December 7, 2014

    Thought provoking stuff, Paul. I would love to discuss more. I have studied extensively on insecure attachment, and recently purchased ‘Addiction as an Attachment Disorder’ (Flores, 2004). I think it is key to understanding our affliction. (I also think that insecure attachment is at the root of many dysfunctional behaviour, and that there are many people who have insecure attachment who are not addicts). I look forward to reading more of your blog.

    • alcoholicsguide · December 8, 2014

      thank you 🙂 insecure attachment certainly contributes to the emotion processing and regulation deficits I have discussed widely so far in this blog. It also seems to have habitualise emotional responding – by that I mean it seems to me that I have implicit memory/self schemas which are generally unconscious but which propel many of my behaviours, so maybe it contributes additionally to my emotional dysregulation; this is what I am researching at present. Although I will be posting this week that insecure attachment impairs brain networks dedicated to emotional regulation and processing so they are undoubtedly interlinked. Look forward to future discussion. Paul

  4. mariajay76 · June 22, 2015

    This resonates deeply with me. The mommy issues and neediness. The manipulating and the compulsive people pleasing. This is where my soul lives. I don’t want to be like this but I really don’t know any other way.

    • alcoholicsguide · June 22, 2015

      it is a tough one Maria I relate to everything you say – I still feel I suffer the effects of insecure attachment decades later. Supposedly there is actually a “resonance circuit” in the brain that takes us straight back to how we felt as kids. These negative self schemas are somehow ingrained in one’s brain and in reactions to the world. We learn these reactions at such a young age. I guess all we can do is to challenge them via our behaviour. I am more the dismissive type but I am needy at times in my close relationships. I am dismissive because I have an inherent mistrust of people I think. My heart is in conflict with this. I want to get closer to people but find it kinda frightening. But when I have helped others I have found this hugely therapeutic, especially those also suffering from addition for example. I find this difficult because of self esteem issues but when I get over those and help someone it is a real release from me and I see myself in a more accurate light. hope this helps – ultimately only love heals this but it seems to take a long time.

      • mariajay76 · June 22, 2015

        My best time in recovery has been when I’m helping someone, whether it be something for another addict or something I do for one of my children or my husband. You’re definitely on to something with the concept of love healing. The more love I show others, the easier I find my own path of recovery. Keep blogging, you have great insight.

      • alcoholicsguide · June 22, 2015

        thank you Maria it is always great to receive words of encouragement – I guess recovery is kinda about doing the opposite of what we want to do – changing our brains via our actions/behaviour – to overcome our fears by facing them and love is the antidote to fear.

  5. alcoholicsguide · June 22, 2015

    Reblogged this on The Alcoholics Guide to Alcoholism and commented:

    I am reblogging this blog again, from 6 months ago, because I find it still very pertinent to me at the moment and because another blogger commented on it’s pertinence to them in recovery as well. I have been in recovery a decade and have continually come up against the same issues over and over again. which are namely low self esteem issues, feeling less than or unworthy, and issues of trusting others which I believe to be the consequence of my own insecure attachment to my mother when growing up. As I will be blogging this week again about the power scars of the past can still exert on me I thought I would kick off with a well received blog from the end of last year. Unfortunately the issues seem as raw and resonant today as when I wrote this 6 months ago. I think this is because my awareness of attachment issues has risen throughout my recovery and I am probably the best placed I have ever been to delve, more deeply into these issues, however reluctantly. The same record playing in my head has become a bit boring over the months and years. It is also important to realise that there is an “earned attachment” out there with other recovering people too, helping others helps me, showing love helps me receive love etc. A secure base can be found in serving others. This is what I intend to do increasingly over the next 6 months. I intend to keep you all up to date with how it goes too. Perhaps we can only rewire our brains by changing our behaviours – perhaps to get the love we needed as children we have to show that love to others as adults. Perhaps we have to get what we need by giving it away? Paul x

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