Attachment and Addiction

betty-at-450-px.jpgTomorrow evening I will be giving a lecture on “Attachment, Attunement and Addiction.”  Betty Dicken, pictured at right, does a superhuman, multitasking job of coordinating several lecture series in Dallas and Houston to represent The Meadows.  The Meadows is an inpatient facility in Arizona specializing in the treatment of a broad range of addictions.   If therapists are not already thinking in terms of relational attachment, I hope this lecture will inspire them to start. If they are already attuned to relationship dynamics as a primary need in individuals, I hope this lecture will encourage them to continue and dig more deeply into it.

attachment-and-addiction-book.jpgI want to promote the only substantive resource I could find that relates attachment to addiction, the excellent book by Dr. Philip Flores, Addiction as an Attachment Disorder. He reviews attachment theory and then applies it to addiction. 

The gist of the lecture is this: Children who are not securely attached (bonded) as infants, are limited in their ability to “connect” as they grow older. These relationship deficits or ruptures result in pain, anguish, fear, etc. The older person is then more prone to seek chemicals, inadequate relationships or addictive behaviors to deal with the deeper negative feelings. These attempts to regulate self-repair are doomed to failure. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that psychotherapy (ideally group therapy plus AA) serves to sever the ties to the addictive “pain killer” and then replace the voids with healthy relationships that are healing and sustaining. Hopefully, the client will then carry that more relational capacity outward into their world of family and friends.  But the therapy must exemplify secure attachment characteristics, not just being nice, not intellectual teaching of principles, not objective interpretation, etc.   I think this quality of therapy is difficult because it demands authenticity from the therapist — no room for hiding. 

The graph below shows four different styles of adult attachment. If you want to see where you operate, answer the questionnaire by Fraley, Waller and Brennan and they’ll plot your dot. I scored in the low anxiety range right on the line between “Secure” and “Dismissing-Avoidant.”

adult-attachment-plot.jpg
Now I wonder what keeps the church from providing that same healing function within the wounded part of the body of Christ. I think we don’t think we are open to research and applied relationship training that comes from the “secular” world. Too many of us “conservative evangelical” folks are afraid to wonder very far from that which is authorized directly by scripture. I’m more inclined to think that something is helpful as long as it doesn’t oppose scripture. It’s particularly good I think if it helps us connect more fully in our significant relationships. Furthermore, I think these insights and this kind of healing can help us not only to connect better to significant other people, but also to connect more intimately with God Himself.  Maybe this is what Jesus had in mind when he reminded us that we are the salt and light of the earth.  Maybe James was thinking about this level of healing when he wrote, “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (rather than evaluating and judging one another).  Maybe John had this kind of secure attachment in mind when he quoted Jesus saying, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.”

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3 Responses to Attachment and Addiction

  1. Laura Tynes says:

    Please send me a copy of the presentation on attunement and attachment and also the presentation you gave in February in Frisco on Regligious Addition. I forgot to send for that one. Thank you for doing this for Betty and The Meadows. I personally have benefitted so much from your presentations. I have been to all of them for the last 3 1/2 years and, God willing, will be at your next also.

    Bless you.

  2. Wr Saint says:

    Great post. As someone who battles addiction, and realizes it is both sin and disease, this is a valuable resource along with brain studies and scripture. I look forward to more resources coming available on this. A lack of attachment is definitely present in my life in many regards.

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