Research Topic

Addiction and Attachment

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In “Attachment Across the Life Cycle”, John Bowlby wrote: “Once we postulate the presence within the organism of an attachment behavioural system regarded as the product of evolution and as having protection as its biological function, many of the puzzles that have perplexed students of human relationships ...

In “Attachment Across the Life Cycle”, John Bowlby wrote: “Once we postulate the presence within the organism of an attachment behavioural system regarded as the product of evolution and as having protection as its biological function, many of the puzzles that have perplexed students of human relationships are found to be soluble”. One such puzzle is the propensity of human beings, irrespective of culture and throughout history, to become addicted to substances. This Research Topic seeks to use attachment research and theory to progress our understanding of the addiction puzzle.

The topic has its origins in the congress of the Grüner Kreis Society held in Vienna in May 2018 where researchers discussed the many facets of the relationship between attachment and addiction.

Attachment is an integrative psychological and biological theory of social affiliation, which has its origins in John Bowlby’s model of psychopathology and psychological treatment. The empirical study of attachment has extended well beyond the original observational methods of Ainsworth into neurobiological, neuroimaging and endocrine studies of the biological correlates of social affiliation and bonding across many mammalian species. The investigation of mental representations of attachment discourse has extended attachment research into personality and developmental psychology and enhanced our understanding of the inter-subjective dynamics of family functioning.

However, it is estimated that 200 million people worldwide use illicit drugs annually and the adverse health effects of dependence on different drugs is well-documented. The WHO provided estimates that tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs contributed to 12.4% of all deaths worldwide in 2000. There are already countless reviews of studies examining addiction and attachment which show consistent cross-sectional and longitudinal relationships between various forms of addiction and insecure patterns of attachment. Neurobiological models of the human susceptibility to addiction have drawn on attachment theory- a good example being Jaak Panksepp’s separation-distress hypothesis of the vulnerability to addiction. However, clinical translations of such models remain in the early stages of development.

There are opportunities for new models of treatment drawing on attachment, psychoanalytic, neurobiological, cognitive, interpersonal and systems theories. Such models allow clinicians to consider the relevant psychological and psychopathological process as they occur at a subjective, familial or social level. So too many developmental questions need to be considered: why is adolescence such a critical period for the development of many forms of addiction; what are the childhood precursors of vulnerability to addiction; how does a history of addiction impact aging… Addressing such developmental questions offers important opportunities for early intervention and prevention.

Following the success of the Grüner Kreis Society conference on Sucht und Bindung, we are calling for papers examining any aspect of the relationship between attachment and any type of addiction. Accordingly, we welcome empirical, review or theoretical papers on the relationships between attachment and addiction considered in terms of the psychology or biology of the attachment bond, evolutionary or neurobiological aspects, emotional regulation, and the role of personality and social interventions designed to enhance social affiliation or produce personality change in people afflicted by addictions.


Keywords: Addiction, Attachment, Neurobiology, Interventions, Treatment Models


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