The development of an individual largely depends on both the inborn features and psychological predispositions, in combination with the predominant social and cultural values progressed in a society (Andersson & Eisemann, 2003). The family environment has long been identified as exerting significant etiological influences on personality development and behavior.
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Most of the retrospective studies have evaluated a wide continuum of parental rearing behavior representing factors that are significantly critical in forming a child and shaping the adult character during the rest of the lifespan (Andersson & Eisemann, 2003).
Consecutive epidemiological studies (West & Sheldon-Keller, 1994; Jaeger et al., 2000; Schindler et al., 2007) have demonstrated an irrefutable relationship between early family experiences and behaviors exhibited by children, adolescents, and adults later in life, and a significant proportion of these studies have brought into the public limelight a wealth of information concerning the relationship between the broad concept of attachment and psychopathologic behaviors exhibited by individuals (Schindler et al., 2005).
A meta-analysis of numerous studies relating to attachment and parental rearing behaviors have revealed that the quality of rapport between children and their caregivers is of intrinsic importance to the children’s development (Schindler et al., 2005; Schindler et al., 2007), and some studies, as demonstrated by Brooks et al (2003), have been successful in tracing adolescent behavior problems back to the parents rearing behaviors during early childhood and the styles of attachment established during this critical phase of development (Nurco & Lerner, 1996).
A recent study involving more than 6,000 children aged below 12 years reinforced the findings of previous studies by Brook et al (2003) and Andersson & Eisemann (2003) that children who are insecurely attached to their mothers during the early years of development experience elevated behavior problems later in life (Rholes & Simpson, 2004).
Such behavioral problems, including dysfunctional attitudes, drug use and abuse, criminal orientation, and dysfunctional internal working mechanisms of self and others (Andersson & Eisemann, 2003), are largely expected to prolong into adolescence and adulthood.
But while a lot of studies have been dedicated to evaluating attachment issues and psychopathology, there is still relatively little research on attachment dimensions and substance use disorders (SUDs) in the general population (Schindler et al., 2005). Of these studies, very few have concentrated on evaluating the interrelationship between attachment dimensions and adolescent drug addiction.
The present study is therefore informed by the need to learn more about the association between some of the known dimensions of attachment and adolescent drug addiction “…because both include emotion regulation and coping strategies as central concepts” (Schindler et al., 2005, p. 207).
While it is largely recognized that attachment is basically a function of emotional regulation and serves as a coping strategy, drug use and abuse is perceived as a form of self-medication against emotional agony, or a spirited attempt to cope with emotional dysfunction and lack of control
Current social problems in many countries are taking a new dimension, with adolescent drug addiction increasingly becoming a major component of the youth subculture and a label of ‘stylish’ life. According to Lisova (2010), “…ever more researchers confirm that the risk of drug use is greatest in the adolescent environment” (p. 92).
It is imperative to note that adolescence is a decisive transition in an individual’s development, a time of intense mental, physical, biological, cognitive, and psychological changes, when the individual finally establishes independence.
Adolescence is not only a phase of active experimentation in diverse spheres of life, including sexual behavior, lifestyle changes, and use of drugs, but it is a time when a sense of responsibility or accountability of behavior has not yet been established.
As such, the overarching convergence of experimentation and immature thought systems are fueled by the often over-extended sense of independence to put adolescents at the highest risk of drug use and dependence (Thatcher & Clark, 2008).
Adolescent drug addiction is certainly a serious, multi-factor syndrome that is the result of the interaction of a multiplicity of factors that can be conceptually divided into genetic, environmental and phenotypic predispositions (Thatcher & Clark, 2008).
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Although there are many environmental risk factors, the present study will focus attention to family-related characteristics such as family functioning, family relationships, parenting practices, and child maltreatment due to the fact that the various styles of attachments are largely perceived and evaluated within the family domain.
The magnitude of good relationships to mental and psychological wellbeing is broadly recognized. Perry (2009) postulates that the attachments we establish in our early lives create a template for how we negotiate our social relationships not only during childhood or adolescence, but throughout the lifespan.
Unfortunately, problematical attachment during the formative years of life can lead to long-term challenges. A wealth of literature (Nurco & Lerner, 1996; Jaeger et al., 2000; Brook et al., 2003; Shaw & Paez, 2007) has demonstrated that good parenting practices, especially in the first year of life, provides the child with the best possible opportunity to lead a healthy, productive, socially acceptable, and satisfying life.
According to Perry (2009), “…the opposite is also tragically true, unless insecurities developed at this crucial stage of development can be later ameliorated by those in position to help” (para. 3).
It is of importance to note that practice across all levels of caring professions, especially in education, has led to a spirited consciousness and responsiveness of the many gains of integrating an attachment strategy or approach into service provision with the aim to offer individuals who have had early experiences of deprivation and maltreatment at the family level another chance to institute and benefit from satisfying relationships.
As such, it is widely believed that understanding the various styles of attachment goes a long way in assisting individuals most at risk of developing and internalizing psychopathic behaviors such as drug use and dependence, aggression, criminal behavior, and learning disabilities (Jaeger et al., 2000).
A study conducted in 2005 by Schindler et al (2005) on attachment and substance use disorders (SUDs) confirmed the relationship between fearful attachment in early years of life and drug dependence later in an individual’s lifespan.
Yet, other studies have demonstrated a correlation between secure attachment – a strong bond between the parent and the child – and substance use and dependency, especially when either of the parents is substance dependent (Drapela & Mosher, 2007).
In consequence, researchers have been keen to stress that establishing secure relationships between parent and child is not always the panacea for producing pro-social and non-pathological behaviors.
Issues of attachment have taken a new dimension especially after the realization that they have been at the core of indiscipline, severe attention problems, low cognitive and moral development, violent emotional outbursts, low self-worth, and substance use and abuse at institutions of learning (Sheldon, 1994).
According to Shaw & Paez (2007), “…school social workers are increasingly faced with students who have attachment issues, those who have been diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder(RAD), as well as the families affected by this disorder” (p. 69).
Although this study purposes to deal with attachment as viewed from the perspective of secure and insecure attachment, it is imperative to note that RAD occurs when the symptoms of an inadequately attached child or adolescent leads to intensely disturbed and developmentally unsuitable social and psychological relatedness (Students First Project, n.d.).
While school-age children affected by attachment issues may exhibit symptoms such as inappropriate demands for attention, disinterest in school and unresponsiveness of behavior, adolescents faced with attachment issues are more likely to exhibit aggressive, antisocial, impetuous, risk-taking, and delinquent behavior, not mentioning that they are more likely to get involved in substance use and abuse (Nurco & Lerner, 1996; Students First Project, n.d.).
The interplay of these factors at the school level and the entrenchment of negative behavior associated with these factors have necessitated educators, school social workers, and counselors to look deeper into attachment issues with a view to develop a reasonable elucidation for this behavior set and recommendations for addressing these behaviors (Shaw & Paez, 2007).
It is widely recognized that adolescents are at the greatest risk of being affected by these behaviors, specifically drug use and abuse, due to the reason that adolescence is a phase intrigued by many physical, psychological and biological discoveries as individuals strive to establish their own independence (Lisova, 2010; Thatcher & Clark, 2008)
In line with these expectations, this particular study aims to critically evaluate attachment dimensions and adolescent drug addiction in relation to school counseling.
Towards Understanding the Concept of Attachment
Plainly put, attachment is an emotional bond that one individual develops towards another. Shaw & Paez (2007) opines that “…attachment is a behavior control system that maintains the safety and security of infants and children through the care and nurturance of a caregiver” (p. 69).
The term ‘attachment’ was originally coined by John Bowlby in the 1950’s, implying the relationship co-developed by a child with his principal caregiver in the first year of life (Perry, 2009), and which has a tremendous impact that continues throughout the lifespan (Bretherton, 1992).
It was the belief of Bowlby that the psychological connectedness serves to keep the child close to its primary caregiver, thus enhancing the child’s chances of survival. The nature of this relationship, according to Perry (2009), generates a stable ‘inner working model’ of how the child relates to his or her own experiences and to the world.
Drawing on established notions from ethology, evolutionally perspectives, cybernetics, information processing, behavioral psychology, developmental psychology, and psychoanalytic perspectives of Sigmund Freud, Bowlby formulated the fundamental tenets of attachment, thereby offering a framework through which psychologists could think about a child’s tie to its primary caregiver, including its disruption through such occurrences as separation, maltreatment, deprivation and bereavement (Bretherton, 1992; Fonagy, 2001).
In addition, Bowlby took the biological predisposition towards attachment, suggesting that it is basically a natural tendency of selection deemed essential for the child’s survival. Bowlby believed that there were four distinctive aspects of attachment, namely proximity maintenance, safe haven, secure base, and separation distress.
In proximity maintenance, the psychologist argued that children have a natural tendency to be near the people they are most attached to, while in safe haven, Bowlby argued that children always returned to the attachment figure for support, comfort and safety when confronted with a fearful or threatening situation (Holmes, 1993).
The psychologist also believed that the attachment figure acted as a base of security from which the infant could explore the immediate environment, thus the aspect of secure base. Lastly, the aspect of separation distress signified the anxiety and fear that occur as a result of negative attachment.
The concept of attachment was later expanded by Mary Ainsworth through her innovative methodology that not only made it feasible to evaluate some of Bowlby’s concepts and ideas empirically, but also greatly assisted to expand the Attachment Theory.
According to Bretherton (1992), Ainsworth’s notable contribution to the broad topic of attachment include formulating the notion of maternal sensitivity to child’s signals and its function in the establishment of child-mother attachment patterns, and the solidification of the notion of attachment figure as a secure base from which the child can explore the surrounding environment.
Her discoveries, especially in secure and insecure attachments, can be inarguably used to evaluate and offer tenable solutions to the problem of adolescent drug addiction.
The Attachment Theory
It is important to understand the main tenets of the Attachment Theory so as to have a clear understanding of how attachment dimensions are related to adolescent drug addiction. The groundwork for Attachment Theory was laid by John Bowlby, but later expanded by other psychologists, including Mary Ainsworth, Peter Foragy, and Mary Target (Holmes, 1993).
The most imperative principle of this theory is that children needs to establish a constructive positive relationship with at least one primary caregiver or attachment figure for social and psychological development to occur normally (Bowlby, 2004).
The theory further progress that a child’s behavior related to attachment is principally the seeking of proximity to the primary caregiver in distressful or anxious situations. In equal measure, the theory propagates the notion that children become attached to primary caregiver who exhibits love and care, and who is sensitive, responsive and consistent in social relationships with them during the early years of life.
As children progresses into adolescence and adulthood, they continually use attachment figures or primary caregivers as a secure base to explore the world.
According to Bowlby (2004), the responses demonstrated by the parents and other attachment figures leads to the development of styles of attachment which, in turn, lead to the establishment of internal working models which functions to guide the individual emotions, feelings, relationships, thought systems, and expectations as they progress through the lifespan.
Psychologist Mary Ainsworth and other attachment theorists extended the Attachment Theory by underpinning the basic tenets of attachment, establishing the notion of the secure base, and developing a representation of a number of attachment styles in children based on secure attachment and insecure attachment models such as avoidant, ambivalent and disorganized models (Rholes & Simpson, 2004; Planitz et al., 2009).
However, this study comprehensively discusses attachment dimensions from the perspective of secure and insecure attachment due to the reason that the three distinct styles of insecure attachment are closely related to similar outcomes. A similar or common outcome of the three styles is that of substance use and dependency.
Secure & Insecure Attachments
There exists a wealth of literature on secure and insecure attachments, and their implications on the psychological development of individuals throughout the lifespan.
Ainsworth and other psychologists are on record for arguing that the psychological availability of attachment figures in addition to the care and nurturance projected by these figures is of outmost importance as children enters preschool and school age, and even in later phases of individual development.
In his 1979 seminal studies on attachment, Bowlby explained that the exploration of the physical and social environment becomes virtually impaired in the absence of safety and security (Golder et al., 2005).
According to Shaw & Paez (2007), “…secure attachment is a protective factor providing a degree of predictability and control for young children” (p. 69). Studies have revealed that secure attachments enhance motivation for children to explore the physical and social environment with a high level of confidence and self-assurance.
Perry (2009) posits that securely attached children will grow up to not only demonstrate the capacity to love in peace, but to create profound, stable relationships typified by empathy and kindness. In addition, they will have the ability to learn and ask for assistance, will be confident of response, develop positive self-worth and good resilience to stress, and effectively reflect on thoughts, behaviors and feelings of others.
Such behavior correlates, according to Shaw & Paez (2007), have been known to offer adolescents the needed framework to achieve optimum psychological development that goes a long way in determining drug indulgence behavior as well as other forms of psychopathic behaviors such as criminal orientation, aggression, and perceived disinterest in establishing social relationships
Within a secure attachment framework, a primary caregiver empathically attunes to her child excruciating and undesirable feelings by allowing her own feelings to resonate with the child’s suffering and containing the feelings by not permitting them to overpower her (Perry, 2009). The mother in this type of relationship co-regulates the child’s feelings and level of arousal, thus reducing the child’s panic level.
According to Perry, reassuring a child in distress “…helps reduce levels of the stress hormone Cortisol, thereby developing highly effective stress control systems in the baby’s brain, and activates the capacity of the vagus nerve, linked, as the child grows, to emotional balance, clear thinking, improved powers of attention and an efficient immune system” (para. 8).
In this perspective, the attachment figure directly assists to facilitate the development of complex communication frameworks in the brain involved with empathy and self-regulation each time she assists the child to feel and conceptualize about his experience.
Insecure attachments, on the other hand, are often evaluated under the lens of parenting correlates such as child abuse and neglect and, as such, parenting blaming has become a fundamental theme in many of the studies related to insecure attachments (Shaw & Paez, 2007). Certainly, primary caregiver behavior is a major focus point in insecure attachments.
A study conducted in 2004 by Zeanah and collegues reinforced previous findings that parents who are critical, rejecting, unresponsive, suppressing, aggressive and abusive often encounter challenges establishing secure attachments with their children (Shaw & Paez, 2007).
Perry (2007) observes that “…unmet early attachment needs and the development of insecure patterns of attachment can lead, in later life, to difficulties dealing with stress…and to challenging antisocial or criminal behavior , violence, drug and alcohol addiction, self-harm, eating disorders and other psychosomatic conditions” (para. 5).
Studies have also revealed positive correlations between insecure attachments and mental health challenges such as depression, stress, anxiety, and phobias. According to Lisova (2010), many of these forms of behavior directly or indirectly leads to drug addiction during the adolescence phase of life as individuals attempts to negotiate other dispositions of life in the absence of a secure attachment figure.
The new and sometimes challenging dimensions of life witnessed during adolescence acts to trigger pre-existing insecurities that may have been internalized in early years of life.
When insecure attachment is triggered by other underlying issues in adolescence, it is common for an individual to display emotional and behavioral difficulties, mental disorders, and drug use and dependence as a way of attempting to communicate about unfulfilled attachment needs (Perry, 2009).
It is imperative to critically evaluate how insecure attachment is created since numerous studies (Schindler et al., 2005; Schindler et al, 2007; Brook et al., 2003) have blamed this particular dimension of attachment for a multiplicity of challenges that face individuals as they progress through the lifespan.
Other studies, however, have demonstrated that the development of psychopathic behaviors is not primarily a function of insecure attachments since problems have also been noted on teenagers with secure attachment backgrounds (Jaeger et al., 2000).
Within an insecure environment, the primary caregiver “…does not attune to, experience empathy for or take pleasure in the child’s experience, or does so only intermittently and unpredictably” (Perry, 2009, para. 10). As such, the child grows up with a deep sense of insecurity of the world, and a limited capability for self-assurance or compassion.
When the child’s feelings are ignored or, at worst, when the child is chastised for expressing a protest at separation, he or she inarguably experiences high levels of Cortisol which may depart from its brain permanently, thereby inducing a scenario where the child becomes over-sensitive to stress.
More importantly, studies have revealed that ongoing uncontrolled suffering may alter fundamental systems in the child’s immature brain, restraining brain development, a situation that leads to the establishment of emotional and behavioral challenges, difficulties in settling to learn, and failure to establish and maintain fulfilling social relationships (Perry, 2009).
Lisova (2010) have correlated such behavioral orientations to adolescent drug addiction.
It has been revealed that fostered and adopted children and teenagers may be predominantly at risk of developing various behavioral difficulties related to attachment. Their social backgrounds habitually include multiple trauma, abandonment and abuse, violent encounters and loss (Perry, 2009).
Early experiences such as separation from primary caregiver, mental health problems or parental drug or alcohol addiction problems have been known to leave children and adolescents equally predisposed, with meager or no hope, trust or expectation that those around them will be concerned about them or even respect them.
Again, this is a sure recipe for the establishment of psychopathic behaviors such as discipline problems, social withdrawal, drug addiction and delinquent behavior later in life, especially during adolescence. As such, comprehensively understanding the diverse patterns of insecure attachment can provide school counselors with cues as to how to effectively respond to adolescents exhibiting the symptoms of drug use and addiction.
Patterns of Insecure Attachment
Expanding on Bowlby’s seminal work on attachment, Ainsworth and other attachment theorists; identified three major patterns of insecure attachment behavior, namely “…avoidant, ambivalent and disorganized” (Perry, 2009, para. 14). These patterns, according to Ainsworth, are demonstrated each time attachment behavior is triggered, that is, when anxiety or distress arises and the need for a secure base is provoked.
At the extreme end of the continuum of these disorders, some individuals with excessively disturbed early childhood experiences may gravitate towards developing attachment disorders such as Reactive Attachment Disorders (Shaw & Paez, 2007; West & Sheldon-Keller, 1994).
It should not be forgotten that that these patterns of behavior stems from physical and psychological unavailability of the primary caregiver, in addition to demonstrating insensitivity and unpredictability in their response to the attachment needs of children (Goldberg, 2004).
These patterns may be exhibited at any phase in an individual’s lifespan, including adolescence. Ainsworth described the various types of insecure attachments as follows:
Studies reveal that “…about 20-25% of children demonstrate an avoidant attachment style” (Goldberg, 2004, para. 10). A child exhibiting this style will be more likely to avoid the attachment figure, and is also likely to demonstrate disinterest towards the attachment figure regardless of her presence or absence in any given situation.
It is likely that the attachment figure has been insensitive and unresponsive to the child’s needs, and abandoned or rebuffed the child’s effort to seek care, especially physical and psychological soothing (Perry, 2009). Over time, the child shuns contact when anxious or distressed, tending instead to cope with his own emotions by attempting to stay in control of his situations.
A wealth of literature reveals that such children, as they grow into adolescence and adulthood, develops a deep sense of being unwanted and unlovable, and instinctively carries anger and resentment towards the attachment figure which they occasionally projects once they are faced with difficult situations (Schindler et al., 2005).
The implication is that the feelings of being unwanted and unloved arouse other behavior orientations that may negatively affect the individual such as self-destructive behavior and drug use and addiction (Lisova, 2010).
Most children who exhibit this style of insecure attachment experience nurturance of a highly undependable nature during the formative years of life. According to Perry (2009), “…the caregiver may have experienced mental health or addiction problems; they may have prioritized their own needs above the child’s and have little sensitivity to the separate needs of the child” (para. 16).
The child actively seeks proximity to the attachment figure at all times, in dread of separation, and is unable to explore or engage with the social environment with any self-assurance that the attachment figure’s attention will be upheld towards him, or that he will remain in his primary caregiver’s mind.
Again, these tendencies may prolong with time and may become fully entrenched in the child’s belief system as he progresses towards adolescence (Thatcher & Clark, 2008). Such individuals exhibit behavioral orientations such as impulsiveness, helplessness, lack of concentration on tasks, and are always tense and fearful.
These orientations have been positively correlated to adolescent drug use and addiction as teenagers get embroiled in drugs and substance abuse in a spirited attempt to fill their emotional gaps and enhance ‘misplaced’ perceptions of security (Thatcher & Clark, 2008).
This style of negative attachment is displayed by a very small proportion of children who have undergone the most distressing early experiences, typified by being terrified of the primary caregiver who is expected to represent the secure base (Perry, 2009).
In most occasions, the disorganized attachment pattern arises when the caregiver-child relationship is characterized by actual maltreatment, violence, total disregard of the child’s feelings, and abandonment.
In addition, studies have revealed that this style of attachment may arises in cases where multiple caregivers are engaged, resulting in minimal continuity of thoughts, worldviews and feelings. Individuals experiencing disorganized attachment experience highly unregulated distress that often leads them to drug addiction as a coping strategy (Schindler et al., 2007).
According to Perry (2009), individuals exhibiting disorganized attachment style are “…hyper-vigilant, and may dissociate, or experience ‘amygdala hijack’, in which their fight-or-flight response is very readily triggered when they perceive threat” (para. 18).
In addition, individuals experience concentration difficulties, and are disorganized, disoriented and helpless, not mentioning the fact that they are in constant fear, anxiety, and emotional upheaval. They also exhibit extremely low self-esteem and often feel totally unworthy of anyone’s care.
Adolescents who display this style of negative attachment use threat, hostility and disregard as the foundations of forming their expectations of the world. As Golder et al (2005) suggests, these are dangerous behavior orientations that commonly lead adolescents to rely on self-medication strategies such as substance abuse and engaging in self-destructive behavior.
Attachment Dimensions & Adolescent Drug Addiction: An Overview
Attachment dimensions, according to Jaeger et al (2000), serves as a compelling framework for understanding adolescent drug addiction due to two reasons. First, the dimensions provide a framework for understanding how caregiver-child relationships influence a child’s early psychological organization and consequent development throughout the lifespan.
As had been suggested by Bowlby during his previous works on attachment, “…young children construct a system of representational models of their attachment figures and themselves on the basis of their early and ongoing interactions with the caregiver” (Jaeger et al, 2000, p. 267).
These internal working models stores critical information about how primary caregivers are likely to respond to the needs of the child when required to do so, and a complimentary perception of how acceptable the child’s self is when evaluated under the lens of the attachment figures.
Once internalized in early childhood, internal working models are employed as a framework for making predictions about the attachment figure’s or primary caregiver’s behavior in new circumstances, not mentioning that “…they serve as a guide for the child’s attachment behavior both in familiar and new contexts” (Jaeger et al., 2000, p. 268).
Of importance to this study is the realization that individual variations in the organization of these models are perceived to bear consequence for emotional development throughout childhood and adaptation in adolescence and adulthood (Schindler et al., 2007).
Jaeger et al (2000) posits that when the attachment figures are responsive and nurturing to the child’s needs, the latter is expected to develop a working model of the attachment figures as accessible along with a representation of the self as worthy of care. This form of attachment is what both Bowlby and Ainsworth described as secure.
It was the opinion of Bowlby that a model of primary caregivers as unavailable to fulfill the needs of the child is almost always unbearable to young children and, as such, they reject this representation from their own consciousness and develop a substitute, less threatening model of the primary caregivers or the attachment models (Jaeger et al, 2000).
This substitute representation is developed on the basis of what the attachment figures have informed the child about how they should be perceived and the psychological associations that must be observed. This form of attachment model is described as insecure.
As adolescents or adults, insecure individuals are more likely to replicate the same unfulfilling pattern of relations with reciprocal attachment figures for the reason that representations influencing their needs and expectations in terms of attachment behaviors are unavailable to consciousness and cannot be amended to reveal current relationships (Jaeger et al., 2000; Nurco & Lerner, 1996; Marsh & Dale, 2005).
The second reason why attachment dimensions may be constructive in explaining adolescent drug addiction lies in the fact that they bring lucidity to clinical descriptions of dysfunctional families and its alleged consequences (Nurco & Lerner. 1996; Jaeger et al., 2000).
Bowlby suggested that clinical descriptions of parenting in dysfunctional families include inadequate nurturance, subjugation of children’s needs and emotions, the overturning of caregiver-child roles and, in extreme cases, physical and psychological abuse. These are the same distinguishing attributes Bowlby and Ainsworth described as accountable for the establishment of insecure attachment relationships.
Clinical descriptions of adolescent outcomes related to parental or family dysfunction include stress, feelings of unworthiness, challenges in developing and maintaining relationships and work-related obligations, an elevated risk for anxiety, aggression and depression, and an passionate need control the behavior and actions of others – an attribute that Bowlby called compulsive care-giving behavior (Jaeger et al., 2000).
These outcomes, resulting from insecure attachment representations, are a sure recipe for adolescent drug use and addiction (Lisova, 2010; Thatcher & Clark, 2008).
Attachments issues in children and adolescents from dysfunctional families have been assessed in several studies. A study by Brennan and colleagues (1991) revealed that children from dysfunctional families, especially with alcoholic attachment figures, harbored more negative interaction approaches in attachment relationships with peers than their counterparts from functional families (Jaeger et al., 2000).
Another by Cavell and collegues (1993) revealed that adolescents of alcoholic fathers depicted their attachment to their fathers as more insecure and unresolved, and had less sophisticated self and world-view representations than did adolescents nurtured by non-alcoholic fathers.
Implications for the School Counseling Practice
Educators and school counselors are increasingly faced with adolescents exhibiting symptoms of drug addiction and other psychopathic orientations (Schindler et al., 2009). Behavior-related problems such as aggression, low-self morale, low-self worth, low learning capacities, and delinquent behavior continues to be reported at our institutions of higher learning at an alarming level.
These behaviors are linked to adolescent drug addiction. It has been revealed that adolescents get involved in drugs as a coping strategy or as a self-medication strategy aimed at providing a framework through which they can successfully deal with their own attachment challenges (Peleg-Oren et al., 2008).
More importantly, it has been demonstrated that adolescents also engage in drug use and addiction as a way to communicate to the wider world about unmet or unresolved attachment needs.
By reflecting on the needs presented by the adolescents from an attachment standpoint, school counselors and social workers can be able to come up with ways of relating therapeutically and psychologically to the adolescent victims of drug addiction so as to address both the presenting concerns and, equally, assist those involved to handle the enormous anxiety and distress that is related to the unmet needs (Brooks et al., 2003).
From the analysis of the literature presented, it is imperative to for the school counselors to involve the family dynamics and social environment in attempting to assist adolescent with drug addiction problems out of the situation (Andersson & Eisemann, 2003).
According to Perry (2009), “…there is a growing body of literature to suggest that early intervention programmes designed to enhance maternal sensitivity, and develop more positive child/parent relationships through (child-led) play can offer small children the best chance of experiencing a secure attachment” (para. 20).
Such intervention programmes could also be initiated for adolescent with drug addiction problem to assist them develop family and other social relationships that will form as a framework for developing secure attachment, thus offering them the opportunity to successfully and effectively deal with their unmet needs (Fraley, 2008).
Understanding the different styles of insecure attachment is fundamentally important for school counselors so that they can develop cues that will assist them to respond to adolescent drug addicts who present for counseling or psychotherapy (Perry, 2009).
For example, school counselors will be in a better position to assist adolescents with insecure avoidant attachment by assisting them to define and be in a position where they will effectively control the various stressors that arises from the environment.
The counselors will also be in a better position to intervene and besiege adolescent with drug addiction problems to accept professional assistance and offer them a framework for dealing with their problems.
According to Perry (2009) the preference displayed by individuals with insecure avoidant attachments to sort things out on their own implies that such individuals may avoid seeking help until the challenge they are struggling to deal with becomes elevated to a point where they are no longer in control.
Understanding critical attachment dimensions will inarguably assist the school counselors to note the problems affecting adolescents in school before they become aggravated and offer tenable interventions such as assisting the adolescents to develop better ways of dealing with the issues that may leading them to abuse drugs as a self-medication strategy.
More importantly, the school counselors must realize that a solution-focused approach may be the best solution for dealing with adolescent drug addicts presenting with insecure avoidant attachment.
Adolescent drug addicts with insecure a bivalent attachment styles are often known to cling to professional support rather than make attempts to develop mechanisms through which they can think and act independently (Perry, 2009).
Instead of actively dealing with the challenges that may have made them to gravitate towards drug use and abuse, they desperately attempt to establish and sustain the professional-client relationship or any other forms of relationship in an attempt to seek for attention about their unmet needs.
Understanding their drug-addiction behavior as communication about unmet needs is likely to provide the school counselors with a respectful and constructive way of dealing with the challenges presented by the adolescents (Andersson & Eisemann, 2003).
Specifically, counselors need to develop working strategies that may disengage the adolescent drug addicts from whatever situations or circumstances that may be holding them captive to ameliorate their distress and anxiety.
In such a scenario, school counselors should aim to develop interventions designed to support the steady development and sustenance of independent thinking and action, while recognizing the adolescent’s projected need for appreciation and reassurance.
Adolescent drug addicts who present with disorganized attachment patterns are more likely to generate more challenges for school counselors. In providing assistance to such adolescents, counselors must realize that “…any number of random triggers may set off their fight-flight reaction, possibly leading to violent outbursts…
Moreover, their capacity to calm themselves will be limited, and their tolerance of delay or perceived disrespect or neglect minimal” (para. 25). Such types of adolescents struggle to trust or depend on the assistance provided by professionals, and their challenges with concentration, emotional stabilization, organization, enthusiasm, and memory may further complicate matters (Rholes & Simpson, 2004).
The fundamental focus with such adolescents needs to be on the development of safety frameworks, and the need for the counselor to realize beforehand that strong and divided emotions are likely to be generated as they work with the drug addicts exhibiting disorganized attachments patterns.
As such, a collective and dependable approach aimed at containing the feelings and emotions of both the adolescent and counselor needs to be established. Support and supervision will be definitely needed to establish a secure base for the professionals to enable them offer the needed stability to the adolescents with drug addiction problems.
According to Perry (2006), “…small and steady tangible interventions, perhaps focused on improving the client’s real-world situation, reliably carried within the context of a stable key-worker relationship, are most likely to create trust and the beginnings of genuine relationships” (para. 26).
Within the school environment, daily occurrences may trigger many children and adolescents into insecure attachment behavior. These types of behavior have been positively correlated with increased instances of drug use and dependence in adolescents as they negotiate the various physical, psychological and biological changes associated with this phase of individual development (Lisova, 2010).
Understanding the adolescents styles of such automatic behavior can inarguably assist school counselors to develop frameworks through which the victims can be come more empathic and resilient in the development of more securely attached relationships.
Similarly, reflecting on problematic behavior such as drug use and abuse as a potential communication about unmet attachment needs or as a self-medication strategy aimed at ameliorating the attachment gaps experienced by the adolescents will go a long way in assisting school counselors to offer consistent, attuned responses that will help contain the perceived unregulated distress (Perry, 2008; Schindler et al., 2009).
The family dynamics is critically fundamental in assisting the adolescent drug addicts to establish secure attachments and open their world to others for effective solutions to be entrenched.
Attachment figures at the family level needs to be taught how to remain responsive to the needs espoused by children and adolescents and, more importantly, they need to be taught on how to focus on the unmet needs that may be projected by this group of individuals (Nurco & Lerner, 1996; Giudice, 2008).
School counselors, on their part, need to establish relationships with adolescent drug addicts that can form the groundwork for the establishment a secure base for the adolescents before they can start addressing the presenting challenges.
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