Reactive attachment disorder is a rare yet serious condition in which infants and young children fail to establish healthy bonds with parents and/or caregivers. This disorder develops because the child’s basic needs of comfort, affection and nurturing are not met, and caring relationships are not established.
This disorder can develop in children whose parents are addicts, and who, due to their addictions, neglect the needs of their children. Reactive attachment disorder can permanently alter a child’s brain, hurting his or her ability to develop future relationships.
Warning Signs of Reactive Attachment Disorder
Reactive attachment disorder can begin before age five. Some common signs and symptoms of reactive attachment disorder in toddlers, older children, and young adults may include:
- Withdrawing from others
- Acting aggressively towards others
- Masking feelings of anger and/or distress
There has been a limited amount of research on signs and symptoms of reactive attachment disorder beyond childhood. In adults this disorder may lead to controlling, aggressive behaviors, trouble relating to peers, among other problems.
Although treatment can help children and adults learn to cope with the disorder, the changes that occurred during early childhood are permanent and continue to be a lifelong challenge.
Treatment Options for Reactive Attachment Disorder
The goals of treatment are to help ensure the child has a safe and stable living environment, which helps him or her develop positive interactions and relationships with parents and/or caregivers. Although there is no standard treatment for reactive attachment disorder, treatment often includes:
- Individual psychological counseling
- Family therapy
- Residential and/or inpatient treatment
Children of addicts may develop severe trust issues because they are unable to depend on their parents. By engaging in individual psychological counseling, individuals suffering with reactive attachment disorder are able to address each issue privately and separately.
Psychological counseling can also uncover past traumatic events and promote the healing process. It is also common for children with this disorder to be involved in family therapy. Family therapy can help repair and rebuild the relationship between the parent and child. Residential and/or inpatient treatment is often sought for adults suffering from reactive attachment disorder who are experiencing more-serious issues or are placing themselves and/or others at risk.