Addiction And The Attachment Connection

Addiction And The Attachment Connection

I have had many teachers and mentors, from their research and specializations I have accumulated my skills. Among these teachers are Sir Richard Bowlby, Dr. Allan Schore, Dr. Daniel Siegel, Dr. Daniel Stern, Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, Dr. Stephen Porges, Mary Main, Dr. John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, and the Boston Change Group. I thank all of you for what you have brought to the fields of Infant Brain Development, Attachment, Psychoanalysis, Neuroscience,and Addiction.

I have been in the field of addiction for 24 years. During the last 15-20 years, there has been some very important movement in a field that has baffled human. We’ve found a limbic connection in the brain with addiction. With the Human Genome Project, we’ve explored the genetic correlation to addiction. For the longest time, we insisted that trauma, most probably sexual, was at the root of addiction. Then eventually we were forced to let that theory go, although there were some startling studies done with female addicts in treatment during the 80s that pointed heavily to sexual trauma. We explored family systems, and found some credence to family backgrounds and addiction, but it still didn’t fit everyone. At this time, the prevailing theory looks like this:

  1. Genetic Predisposition
  2. Major Life Trauma (Attachment and anything that occurs afterwards)
  3. A Substance That Works to Make Life Bearable

This is how I explain the connection between addiction and attachment disorder/trauma to my clients:

In utero, something happens for Mom. It could be that she is having a difficult physical pregnancy, and feels sick or is bed-ridden. Maybe she and Dad aren’t getting along, or maybe Dad is away. Perhaps there are already 3 children, and she’s worried how will she feed and care for a 4th. It could be that she’s had a miscarriage in the past, or is afraid of losing this child. There could be financial problems, or Mom’s parents could be ill. The Mom might have unaddressed attachment trauma from her own early childhood, or she might be depressed. Mom could have a drug problem herself or be an alcoholic and not be drinking. Dad could be the unreliable alcoholic that she is worried about. Really, it could be almost any one thing or a combination of things. And this is during the time when the baby’s emotional brain is being developed. Whatever Mom is feeling becomes the foundation for what the baby’s emotional life will be like.

Then the baby is born, and Mom puts everything she is feeling into the baby, right brain to right brain, through the eyes and mirror neurons in the frontal lobe. These feelings become the baby’s emotional experience while the right brain is developing during the first 18 months of life. During this first 18 month period is also when the capacity for joy is developed. The left brain is not even on board yet. If the child doesn’t experience the needed happy, loving, mommy-baby dance moments, or if mommy is anxious or depressed, those neurons are pruned.

Here is what I’ve learned from my clients over the course of 24 years:

Alcoholics have anxiety—no exceptions. Their first drink is a miracle for their anxiety. There may also be depression (as alcohol is a central nervous system depressant); or depression could be co-occurring from early attachment states. Alcohol is an incredible anti-anxiety drug.

Opiate/Heroin addicts are depressed. They fall somewhere on the continuum from severe depression to dysthymia. There is no better antidepressant than opiates.

Methamphetamine Addicts, overwhelmingly, have severe ADD/ADHD.

Marijuana addicts (The heavy users—chronic) have issues of rage that the drug has kept at bay. Eventually the drug ceases to work anymore; this can take 20-25 years to occur. But when it stops working, the rage is unstoppable.

There are strong correlations between Cocaine addiction and Bipolar I or II.

With Hallucinogens, there is often psychosis prior to the drug use; also, there are those called to a spiritual path who believe they will find what they’re looking for with the aid of psychedelics.

With the clients capable of accurate self-reporting, or with the information from their mothers and fathers, I can connect their drugs of choice with early attachment trauma and emotional states that their mothers were going through.

We conclude that complex trauma and/or personality disorders are attachment related, including PTSD, and 40% of addicts (or more) have some form of personality disorder. What Mary Main and Dr. Daniel Siegel teach us is that the cycle of attachment trauma can be broken. One only needs to make sense of his or her life to break the pattern.

Janice L. Witt, M.A. Addiction and Trauma Specialist – Neurofeedback Supervisor and Practitioner

At Blueprints for Recovery, we treat Attachment Trauma and all other trauma with Neurofeedback, EMDR, and Psychotherapy. Please call us today at (877) 594-4901 to let us know how Blueprints for Recovery can help.

I have had many teachers and mentors, from their research and specializations I have accumulated my skills. Among these teachers are Sir Richard Bowlby, Dr. Allan Schore, Dr. Daniel Siegel, Dr. Daniel Stern, Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, Dr. Stephen Porges, Mary Main, Dr. John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, and the Boston Change Group. I thank all of you for what you have brought to the fields of Infant Brain Development, Attachment, Psychoanalysis, Neuroscience,and Addiction.

I have been in the field of addiction for 24 years. During the last 15-20 years, there has been some very important movement in a field that has baffled human. We’ve found a limbic connection in the brain with addiction. With the Human Genome Project, we’ve explored the genetic correlation to addiction. For the longest time, we insisted that trauma, most probably sexual, was at the root of addiction. Then eventually we were forced to let that theory go, although there were some startling studies done with female addicts in treatment during the 80s that pointed heavily to sexual trauma. We explored family systems, and found some credence to family backgrounds and addiction, but it still didn’t fit everyone. At this time, the prevailing theory looks like this:

  1. Genetic Predisposition
  2. Major Life Trauma (Attachment and anything that occurs afterwards)
  3. A Substance That Works to Make Life Bearable

This is how I explain the connection between addiction and attachment disorder/trauma to my clients:

In utero, something happens for Mom. It could be that she is having a difficult physical pregnancy, and feels sick or is bed-ridden. Maybe she and Dad aren’t getting along, or maybe Dad is away. Perhaps there are already 3 children, and she’s worried how will she feed and care for a 4th. It could be that she’s had a miscarriage in the past, or is afraid of losing this child. There could be financial problems, or Mom’s parents could be ill. The Mom might have unaddressed attachment trauma from her own early childhood, or she might be depressed. Mom could have a drug problem herself or be an alcoholic and not be drinking. Dad could be the unreliable alcoholic that she is worried about. Really, it could be almost any one thing or a combination of things. And this is during the time when the baby’s emotional brain is being developed. Whatever Mom is feeling becomes the foundation for what the baby’s emotional life will be like.

Then the baby is born, and Mom puts everything she is feeling into the baby, right brain to right brain, through the eyes and mirror neurons in the frontal lobe. These feelings become the baby’s emotional experience while the right brain is developing during the first 18 months of life. During this first 18 month period is also when the capacity for joy is developed. The left brain is not even on board yet. If the child doesn’t experience the needed happy, loving, mommy-baby dance moments, or if mommy is anxious or depressed, those neurons are pruned.

Here is what I’ve learned from my clients over the course of 24 years:

Alcoholics have anxiety—no exceptions. Their first drink is a miracle for their anxiety. There may also be depression (as alcohol is a central nervous system depressant); or depression could be co-occurring from early attachment states. Alcohol is an incredible anti-anxiety drug.

Opiate/Heroin addicts are depressed. They fall somewhere on the continuum from severe depression to dysthymia. There is no better antidepressant than opiates.

Methamphetamine Addicts, overwhelmingly, have severe ADD/ADHD.

Marijuana addicts (The heavy users—chronic) have issues of rage that the drug has kept at bay. Eventually the drug ceases to work anymore; this can take 20-25 years to occur. But when it stops working, the rage is unstoppable.

There are strong correlations between Cocaine addiction and Bipolar I or II.

With Hallucinogens, there is often psychosis prior to the drug use; also, there are those called to a spiritual path who believe they will find what they’re looking for with the aid of psychedelics.

With the clients capable of accurate self-reporting, or with the information from their mothers and fathers, I can connect their drugs of choice with early attachment trauma and emotional states that their mothers were going through.

We conclude that complex trauma and/or personality disorders are attachment related, including PTSD, and 40% of addicts (or more) have some form of personality disorder. What Mary Main and Dr. Daniel Siegel teach us is that the cycle of attachment trauma can be broken. One only needs to make sense of his or her life to break the pattern.

Janice L. Witt, M.A. Addiction and Trauma Specialist – Neurofeedback Supervisor and Practitioner

At Blueprints for Recovery, we treat Attachment Trauma and all other trauma with Neurofeedback, EMDR, and Psychotherapy. Please call us today at (888) 744-9969 to let us know how Blueprints for Recovery can help.

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