Insecure attachment affects emotion regulation in alcoholics?
I have blogged recently about how insecure attachment is linked to various addictive behaviours.
What is important is to establish a mechanism by which insecure attachment contributes to later addictive disorders. It may not be enough to say attachment and addiction are linked but that they are linked via a pathomechanism of some sort.
I have argued many times before that I believe this pathomechanism, the mechanism by which a pathological condition occurs, or the mechanism that drives a disease state (or disorder) is emotion processing and regulation deficits.
We look here (1) at a study that demonstrates how insecure attachment correlates in alcoholics with difficulties in emotion processing and regulation difficulties. I believe this is how addiction is driven to it’s endpoint of chronic, compulsive behaviour, although this study is only a correlational study and makes no such claims about causation.
“Attachment theory has been conceptualised as an affect regulation theory, proposing that attachment is associated with the expression and recognition of emotions as well as interpersonal functioning… the objective of the present study was to investigate potential associations between attachment, Negative Mood Regulation (NMR) expectancies, fear of intimacy and self-differentiation…(with) findings support broad attachment theory suggesting that attachment is associated with and predicts affect regulation abilities, difficulties with intimacy and intrapersonal as well as interpersonal functioning in a sample of substance use disorder inpatients.
Attachment is associated with the expression and regulation of emotion. Early attachment theory postulates that early bonding
with a significant caregiver is essential for the development of internal working models for communication, regulation of emotions and interpersonal behaviour.
These early attachment experiences are associated with adult attachment styles. Adult attachment styles are relatively stable and influence attitudes, emotions, affect regulation and behavioural strategies in relationships…Empirical evidence has indicated associations between insecure attachment, fear of intimacy and
emotion regulation difficulties and between secure attachment
and a higher capacity for intimacy, emotional awareness and empathy.
Substance abuse has been proposed to be a consequence of emotion regulation difficulties with individuals using alcohol/drugs to avoid
intimacy or rejection, to ease pain, anger and ambivalence and possibly establish a “secure base”.
Negative mood regulation (NMR) expectancies are beliefs regarding a person’s ability to terminate or alleviate a negative mood state.
High NMR presumably reflects the ability to cope successfully with bad moods, whereas having low NMR may lead to less efficacious or maladaptive ways of coping… high NMR may be associated with secure attachment, as securely attached individuals tend to seek comfort from others when emotionally upset, and utilise constructive coping mechanisms to decrease the intensity of distress.
By contrast, low NMR may potentially be associated with anxious attachment as well as substance abuse...insecure attachment is a fearful attachment style characterised by a fear of intimacy and rejection, high emotional reactivity and a self-belief associated with being deserving of rejection. Some have argued that fear of intimacy (FIS) is associated with mental health issues and substance use problems…FIS research to date has largely reported significant associations with loneliness, lack of self-disclosure, low social interaction and low relationship quality.
Differentiation of self is defined as the degree to which an individual is able to balance emotional and intellectual functioning, intimacy and autonomy in relationships…Individuals with lower
self-differentiation experience higher levels of chronic anxiety, emotion regulation difficulties, mood disturbances and substance abuse.
In addition, previous studies have reported higher levels of mood regulation and interpersonal difficulties in substance abusers compared to controls…(As) attachment has been hypothesised to be associated with relationship functioning and mood regulation (and) addiction has been proposed to be an attachment disorder, potential relationships of attachment with mood regulation and interpersonal functioning in substance abusers may
potentially inform the development of future treatment approaches.
The results (of this study) indicated a significant negative association between anxious attachment and NMR…suggesting that anxious attachment may be associated with lower abilities to regulate one’s negative moods. This is in accordance with other research evidence suggesting that insecurely attached individuals tend to show poor affect regulation.
The present investigation also found that attachment was a strong predictor of FIS (and) the present results suggest that adult
attachment is related to difficulties in intimacy and interpersonal functioning, in accordance with previous evidence that reported a significant association between insecure attachment and relationship problems as well as lower levels of trust, interdependence and commitment.
The present investigation also found that anxious attachment significantly predicted emotional reactivity (ER).
These data support the predictive power of anxious attachment in relation to being more emotionally reactive, having difficulties with emotion regulation and maladjustment in those with substance dependence…The predictive utility of attachment was also related to Emotional cut-off (EC)…This is in line with previous research suggesting a link between attachment and EC in those with substance abuse and implies that attachment style is related to traits of emotional aloofness, anxiety, isolation from others and exaggerated independence…EC may be associated with, or a consequence of alexithymia, a personality trait associated with difficulties in identifying and describing feelings.”
The above sounds so familiar, doesn’t it? Sounds like most newcomers to recovery that I have ever come cross, including me.
1. Thorberg, F. A., & Lyvers, M. (2009). Attachment in relation to affect regulation and interpersonal functioning among substance use disorder in patients.Addiction Research & Theory, 18(4), 464-478.