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Review ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Psychiatry | doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00737

Pathways Relating the Neurobiology of Attachment to Drug Addiction

  • 1Stead Family Department of Pediatrics, The University of Iowa, United States
  • 2Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Baylor College of Medicine, United States
  • 3Department of Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine, United States
  • 4Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Baylor College of Medicine, United States
  • 5Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Baylor College of Medicine, United States
  • 6The University of Iowa, United States
  • 7School of Medicine, Yale University, United States
  • 8Departments of Stead Family Pediatrics and Psychiatry, The University of Iowa, United States

Substance use disorders constitute a significant public health problem in North America and worldwide. Specifically, substance addictions in women during pregnancy or in the postpartum have adverse effects not only on the mother, but also on mother-infant attachment and the child’s subsequent development. Additionally, there is growing evidence suggesting that parental addiction may be transmitted intergenerationally, where the child of parents with addictions is more likely to experience addiction as an adult. The current review takes a developmental perspective and draws from animal and human studies to examine how compromised early experience, including insecure attachment, early abuse/neglect, and unresolved trauma, may influence the development of neurobiological pathways associated with addictions, ultimately increasing one’s susceptibility to addictions later in life. We approach this from three different levels: molecular, neuroendocrine and behavioral; and examine the oxytocin affiliation system, dopamine reward system, and glucocorticoid stress response system in this regard. Increased understanding of these underlying mechanisms may help identify key targets for early prevention efforts and inform needed intervention strategies related to both insecure attachment and addiction.

Keywords: Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), glucocorticoid, Dopamine, Oxytocin, Addiction, Attachment

Received: 09 Jun 2019; Accepted: 16 Sep 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Mertens, Kim, Rajhans, Xu, Potenza and Strathearn. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: MD, PhD. Lane Strathearn, The University of Iowa, Departments of Stead Family Pediatrics and Psychiatry, Iowa City, 77030, TX, United States,