Adult Addiction and Reactive Attachment Disorder in Children

Adult Addiction and Reactive Attachment Disorder in ChildrenThe Mayo Clinic defines reactive attachment disorder as a serious condition that can occur when young children do not develop healthy bonds with their parents or guardians. The disorder, which typically begins in children under age five, may involve changes to the developing brain related to an environment that fails to meet the child’s emotional needs. In babies the symptoms include a resistance to smiling, reaching out, following others and engaging in interactive games while adolescents tend to be withdrawn, dismissive, awkward, aggressive toward peers and hesitant to ask for help. Risk factors include institutional care, abuse, extreme neglect and parents with substance use disorders.

Children of Addicts

When a parent suffers from addiction, it can impact the family in several ways including the following:

  • Elevated rates of physical, sexual and emotional abuse
  • Increased likelihood of neglect and emotional disconnect
  • Legal consequences that land children in state custody
  • Compromises to the family’s financial and physical safety
  • Higher instances of divorce, neglect and unemployment
  • Dysfunction shifts in family dynamics and responsibilities

Children of all ages may experience adaptive distancing, diminished self-esteem, depression, anxiety, gastrointestinal disorders and feelings of embarrassment and shame when raised by an addicted parent. While reactive attachment disorder may involve many of these same symptoms, it is a more serious mental illness that develops early in a child’s neurobiology and has lasting effects into adulthood.

Reactive Attachment Disorder Effects

Reactive attachment disorder tends to manifest in later years as inhibited or disinhibited behavior. Inhibited individuals tend to demonstrate symptoms of avoidant attachment, which include the following:

  • Difficulties relating to peers and working as a team
  • Problems forming meaningful attachments and relationships
  • Apathy toward other people’s needs, emotions and beliefs
  • Compulsive self-reliance and passive social withdrawal
  • Sensitivity to blame yet overly critical of oneself and others

Meanwhile disinhibited individuals often manifest symptoms of ambivalent attachment, which include the following:

  • Tendencies to be possessive, jealous and emotionally smothering
  • Compulsive dependence on others coupled with rejection anxieties
  • Reliance on relationships to feel secure, stable and balanced
  • Constant attention seeking often involving childish or emotional acts

The children of addicts also have higher rates of addiction themselves. Genetics is arguably the leading driver in addiction predisposition, and a substance-abusing household is the type of negative environment that exploits those genetic vulnerabilities.

Rehabilitation Treatment Centers

As needed rehabilitation centers usually provide medically supervised detox, integrated mental health care and a variety of recovery treatments. If the addict’s child shows symptoms of reactive attachment disorder, rehabilitation also involves several other potential therapies including the following:

  • Parental counseling to address their relationship and behavior involving the child
  • Play therapy to allow parents and children to express feelings through playtime
  • Individual counseling for spouses who enable addictive and unhealthy behavior
  • Educational therapies to teach the addict better parenting and bonding skills
  • Therapy and education services for the child to foster emotional connections
  • Mental disorder screenings, diagnosis and treatment for all family members
  • Family counseling to resolve conflict and implement healthier household dynamics

Since reactive attachment disorder is not a common mental illness, specialists are typically used to diagnosis and treat the disorder. Following primary treatment patients should utilize ongoing aftercare therapies to solidify and enhance recovery gains.

Professional Help

If you have questions about addiction, interventions and mental health disorders, our admissions coordinators are ready to help 24 hours a day. We can provide information on treatment plans and services, recommend interventionists and facilities and even check health insurance policies for rehabilitation benefits. Whether the addict is you or a loved one, we can provide the assistance you need. Please call our toll-free helpline now.