How Insecure Attachment Links with Addiction

Insecure attachment tends to be linked to addictive behaviors. However, the mechanism of how insecure attachment leads to addictive behavior remains unknown. A new study in the journal of Addictive Behaviors shows that emotional dysregulation intervenes between the relationship of insecure attachment with substance abuse and behavioral dependencies.

Attachment, Emotional Dysregulation, and Addictive Behaviors

Emotional dysregulation is when you have problems with understanding, being aware, and accepting your emotions, as well as managing your emotional experiences. Regulating your emotions could be achieved through social support, as well as engaging in addictive behaviors. People tend to recover from addiction by coping with their negative emotions.

People with anxious attachment styles who want close relationships engage in strategies that maintain or make their distress worse. Insecure attachment tends to lower emotional regulation abilities. No study as of yet has tested whether emotional dysregulation causes the relationship between insecure attachment and addiction.

Overview of Research Study

This research is to prove that emotional dysregulation causes the relationship between insecure attachment and four potentially addictive behaviors: alcohol use, marijuana use, online gaming, and texting. One of the hypotheses was that anxious and avoidant adult attachment styles are associated with greater symptoms of alcohol, marijuana, texting, and online gaming.

The second hypothesis suggested that anxious and avoidant attachment styles are associated with greater emotional dysregulation. The third hypothesis indicated that emotional dysregulation is linked with an increased number of symptoms for each of the addictive behaviors when controlling for anxious and avoidant attachment styles. The fourth hypothesis stated that emotional dysregulation is linked with anxious and avoidant attachment styles and symptoms for all four potentially addictive behaviors.

The Procedure

Students enrolled in the Introduction to Psychology class at the University of Kansas filled out a series of surveys based on the activity they picked. Participants were asked to choose one of the six activities based on how the student describes themselves and involvement with the activity.

The six activities were tobacco use, marijuana use, texting, alcohol use, online gaming, and gambling. Because of the small sample size, tobacco and gambling was removed from further analysis. There were 689 participants involved from ages 18-31 years old.

Different Scales Used

The Experiences in Close Relationships scale was used to measure adult attachment styles. It measures two scales of insecure attachments: anxious (like being worried about getting rejected) or avoidant (like avoiding getting close to others). The scale was from one to seven, with seven being that they strongly agree. The higher scores would reflect the greater anxious and avoidant attachment styles.

Emotional dysregulation was measured on a Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale. Items are from one to five, where the greater scores indicate greater emotional dysregulation. To measure potentially addictive behaviors, there was a table of 11 items for each form of substance abuse. The scale was from one (completely false) to five (completely true).

Results of the Study

Of the 712 participants, 305 participants chose texting, 108 people chose alcohol, 130 chose marijuana, and 66 chose online gaming. Alcohol, texting, internet gaming, and marijuana had high scores. There were similar results between the number of symptoms for alcohol and marijuana, and the days spent in the last 12 months engaging in these behaviors. There were also similar results between the total number of symptoms and the hours spent texting and online gaming.

There is an important relationship between the total number of symptoms and friends and family expressing concerns for all four substance and behavioral dependencies. There were differences in age between alcohol, marijuana, texting, and online gaming. Internet gaming participants were the oldest and texting participants were the youngest. More females chose alcohol and texting.

More males chose marijuana and online gaming. There were no differences between males and females with emotional dysregulation. Females, on the other hand, had a higher score for anxious attachment than males, but lower score on avoidant attachment. There were no differences between alcohol, marijuana, texting, or online gaming on anxious scales or avoidant attachment.

Anxious Attachment Analysis

Higher scores on the anxious attachment scale were associated with the symptoms of alcohol, marijuana, and texting, but not online gaming. In all four groups, higher scores had greater emotional dysregulation. Emotional dysregulation was associated with the increased number of symptoms in all four groups while controlling for scores of anxious attachment. Emotional dysregulation was indeed a mediator in the relationship between higher scores on the anxious attachment scale and symptoms of alcohol, marijuana, texting, and online gaming.

Avoidant Attachment Analysis

Higher scores of avoidant attachment were not associated with the number of symptoms for the four groups. However, higher scores on avoidant attachment scores predicted greater levels of emotional dysregulation for the alcohol, marijuana, and texting samples, but not for online gaming.

Conclusion for Study

As hypothesized, anxious attachment was associated with the symptoms of alcohol, marijuana, and texting, just not with online gaming. People with greater anxious attachment turn to addictive behaviors to manage emotional distress while people with avoidant styles do not experience as much emotional distress.

Emotional dysregulation may not be associated with online gaming because online gaming is normally done while in isolation from others. This study can be helpful in understanding the link between attachment and addictive behaviors, as well as treatment strategies to help others with attachment insecurities who struggle with addictive behaviors.

If you find yourself turning to alcohol, drugs, or other addictive behaviors as a way to cope with your emotional issues, Silver Lining Recovery can help. We believe the most effective way to treat addiction is to find the underlying cause of it and offer professional help. Our experienced counselors work with each client to create a customized treatment plan that involves therapy options such as EMDR, CBT, DBT, meditation treatment, faith-based treatment, and more. Please call us today at (866) 729-8577 to learn more.

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