Reactive-Attachment Disorders And Addiction

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D on July 5, 2021

Reactive-attachment disorders start in childhood or infancy, with symptoms lasting into adulthood if left untreated. Adults with RAD may turn to substance use as a means of coping with their lack of emotions or feelings of emptiness.

Co-Occurring Reactive-Attachment Disorders And Addiction

Reactive-attachment disorders (RAD) occur in children under five and can start as early as infancy. While it is not known to officially occur past childhood, a child left untreated will likely develop other mental disorders as they get older.

Because RAD is something that does not get diagnosed past the age of five, it does not have a direct relationship with a person suffering from addiction.

However, it can lead to mental disorders which do have a direct relationship with addiction.

When someone is struggling with addiction, it is extremely important to treat both the addiction and any underlying mental disorders, otherwise, relapse becomes almost inevitable.

And while RAD is considered a childhood disorder, symptoms that linger in adulthood can be dangerous.

Learn more about co-occurring stress and trauma-related disorders and addiction

What Are Reactive-Attachment Disorders?

Reactive-attachment disorder is a rare disorder in children and babies that occurs when the child does not form a healthy emotional bond with their parents or caregivers.

This usually only happens if the parental figures or caregivers are absent or neglectful in severe ways.

Risk factors for reactive-attachment disorders include:

  • living in an orphanage or foster home
  • frequently changing homes or caregivers
  • having prolonged separation from parents or caregivers due to illness, incarceration, etc.
  • having parents who are severely mentally ill, struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, or involved in criminal activity

A child or infant whose basic physical and emotional needs are not being met, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is at risk for developing RAD.

Sadly, many cases of RAD are never diagnosed because the caregivers are not willing to expose themselves as neglectful.

Because many cases of RAD will go untreated, many of those who suffer in childhood will carry their symptoms into adulthood.

While RAD is considered a childhood disorder, it can affect a person for their whole life.

What Are The Symptoms Of Reactive-Attachment Disorders?

There are two types of reactive-attachment disorders — inhibited and disinhibited.

With inhibited RAD, a child has a tendency to act withdrawn or detached, and will mostly keep to themselves. They will seem unresponsive to comforting or nurturing and will have difficulty expressing their emotions.

With disinhibited RAD, a child instead has the tendency to act impulsively and inappropriately with strangers.

They are likely to act overly social with people they don’t know and may potentially get themselves into dangerous situations this way.

When RAD remains unaddressed, the child will progress into adolescence and adulthood and carry many of these symptoms with them.

Signs that an adult has reactive-attachment disorder include:

  • detachment
  • distrust
  • anger problems
  • control issues
  • impulsivity
  • difficulty giving or receiving affection
  • difficulty maintaining relationships
  • difficulty grasping emotions

Adults with RAD are also known to lack empathy and avoid intimate relationships with others.

In addition, they often struggle with other mental disorders, such as depressive disorders and mood disorders.

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The Relationship Between Addiction And Reactive-Attachment Disorders

While there is not necessarily a direct relationship between addiction and reactive-attachment disorder, this does not mean that there is no relationship at all. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

Social Issues Caused By RAD May Lead To Substance Abuse

An adult with RAD is likely to struggle a lot socially and have difficulty forming meaningful relationships and friendships.

They may turn to drugs or alcohol as a means of trying to fit in or obtain a sense of belonging with others.

Drug And Alcohol Abuse As A Coping Mechanism

An adult with RAD may also turn to drugs or alcohol as a way of coping with the loneliness or emptiness they feel as a result of their lack of connection with others.

Having RAD can be quite painful and debilitating, and for some self-medicating may seem like the best option.

How Are Addiction And Reactive-Attachment Disorders Diagnosed?

The diagnostic process for addiction is relatively simple and will likely require a physical exam and discussions with physicians in various specialties.

The most difficult part for anyone struggling with addiction is usually admitting that they need help.

Reactive-attachment disorder can only be officially diagnosed in patients between the ages of nine months old and five years old.

Individuals can show symptoms of RAD as adults, but their condition will most likely be labeled as a different mental disorder.

Any physician attempting to diagnose RAD will first need to rule out any other potential disorders with similar symptoms.

Disorders that will need to be ruled out for reactive-attachment disorder diagnosis include:

  • autism spectrum disorder
  • depressive disorders
  • learning disabilities
  • other adjustment or attachment disorders

In fact, it is a general rule when diagnosing RAD in a child that they cannot be simultaneously diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

How Are Addiction And Reactive-Attachment Disorders Treated?

Treatment for addiction will vary based on the situation. It will generally start with a medical detox if necessary and progress to a combination of medications and therapies in either an inpatient or outpatient setting.

On the other hand, there is no single standard treatment currently for children with reactive-attachment disorders.

Any treatment given, however, will involve both the child and their caregivers and attempt to establish stable and nurturing living conditions.

Finding Dual Diagnosis Treatment For Addiction And Reactive-Attachment Disorders

If you or a loved one is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction while showing signs of reactive-attachment disorder, please do not wait any longer to get help.

Give our helpline a call today — our patient and understanding representatives are standing by to help you find a dual diagnosis rehab program today.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D on July 5, 2021
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