There is mounting evidence that childhood maltreatment can profoundly influence human development, resulting in a variety of mental, emotional, and social challenges – including addictive disorders. Attachment theory is a dominant theory in human development today and is a useful framework for understanding how early relational experiences can have far-reaching effects.

Developmental trauma and attachment disturbances can lead to deficits in nervous system regulation due in part to disruptions in neurochemical systems involving oxytocin and dopamine and can impact neural pathways connecting the prefrontal cortex and the limbic structures. Furthermore, research conducted by the presenter will be used to show that attachment-related anxiety and avoidance are related to rumination/emotion dysregulation and suppression/emotional unclarity, respectively.

Addictive behaviours can be seen as an attempt at short-term regulation, with long-term consequences. Theoretical ideas will be presented linking early-occurring attachment-related changes to the dopamine rewards system as a possible basis for later vulnerability to addictive disorders. Finally, the roles of mindfulness and self-compassion will be explored as possible interventions for those who suffer with trauma- and attachment-related disorders.

This presentation will utilise cutting-edge research, highly engaging visual information, and real-world clinical anecdotes to explore the scientific linkages between trauma, attachment, and addiction, and will offer ideas on how to help clients restore the capacity to self-regulate in healthy ways.

Learning Objectives:

1. Participants will be able to identify general principles of attachment theory.
2. Participants will be able to describe how attachment theory can be used to better conceptualise childhood maltreatment.
3. Participants will be able to describe the qualities of the two main dimensions of attachment insecurity: anxiety and avoidance.

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