Early Affliction and Later Addiction: Is Childhood Maltreatment and Adult Insecure Attachment Style Related to Substance Use?

James Emerson Lewis


This study examined how past exposure to various types of childhood maltreatment relate to attachment styles in adulthood, and how these two variables are associated with levels of alcohol/drug use and addiction issues. Understanding how predispositions of how one develops substance use problems is important to prevention efforts and in treating addicted individuals. Frequently, drug addiction has been explained under the concept of the “disease” model, and research indicates there are various factors involved in this concept, such as maltreatment during childhood and adult insecure attachment styles. Childhood maltreatment has also been found to be associated with an insecure attachment style of adulthood (Hankin, 2005). Additionally, insecure attachment may increase susceptibility to, and/or maintenance of, substance problems (Thorberg, & Lyvers, 2006). Participants came from a convenience sample of psychology classes at a middle-sized Southeastern university, who participated via an online participant management system, after IRB approval was obtained. It was hypothesized that various experiences of childhood maltreatment would be significantly and positively correlated with adult insecure attachment scores, and that childhood maltreatment and insecure attachment would have significant, positive correlations with levels of alcohol/drug use and addiction issues. Pearson’s product-moment correlation analyses findings supported H1, but only partially supported H2. There were significant positive correlations between various types of childhood maltreatment and insecure attachment. However, adult insecure attachment scores were only positively, and weakly correlated with one measure of substance abuse/addition, specifically the DAST.


childhood maltreatment; attachment; substance abuse

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