Promises’ Dr. Donna Markus to Speak on Attachment Organization and Addiction at BFI Summit in Savannah, Georgia

Share Article

Dr. Markus’s workshop on attachment organization at the Summit for Clinical Excellence, “Brain Matters: Neuroscience, Trauma & Recovery,” in Savannah, Georgia, will focus on how early childhood experiences impact addiction treatment and recovery.

Children’s early attachment relationships impact their emerging self-concept and developing view of the social world

Dr. Donna Markus, Executive Director of Promises Treatment Centers in Malibu, will be speaking at the BFI Conference Friday, March 5 in Savannah, Georgia, on the influence of attachment organization on addiction and recovery. Dr. Markus did her doctoral thesis on the topic of attachment theory.

While working in the addiction treatment field, Dr. Markus recognized the challenge of getting clients to establish and maintain interpersonal relationships, and she wanted to better understand these obstacles. She began researching attachment theory and its implications with addiction about a decade ago, and found that it is extremely helpful in understanding how an individual’s early attachment experiences may influence his or her personality development and psychological well being.

Recovery is not a solo journey; a fundamental part of recovering from drug or alcohol addiction is becoming engaged with others and maintaining support networks of recovering peers. However, engaging with others, including treatment staff, can be very challenging for some. Attachment theory provides a framework for clinicians to better understand why this is so challenging as well as provide insight into the client’s defense mechanisms and difficulties with affect management.

“Children’s early attachment relationships impact their emerging self-concept and developing view of the social world,” Dr. Markus said. “The child internalizes the affective experience he or she has with the primary caregiver and the ‘rules’ that govern that relationship; in other words, ‘This is how I have to be in order to maintain a relationship with you.’

“There are four attachment organizations, or styles: secure attachment, avoidant attachment, ambivalent attachment, and disorganized attachment,” Dr. Markus continued. “If an individual was raised by a caregiver who was consistently available, reliable, and emotionally responsive, the individual internalizes the feeling that they are lovable and worthy of attention, that they are safe in the world, and that the people around them are reliable. As they get older, they understand that their emotional distress can be regulated by actively seeking the support of others, and they can regulate negative emotions in a constructive manner. This is referred to as secure attachment.

“On the other hand, many children are raised by caregivers who weren’t always emotionally responsive, available, and attuned to their needs, and these individuals can end up presenting with one of the insecure attachment styles. The avoidant style emerges when an individual’s caregiver was consistently inattentive, so the child grows up believing that others are unreliable, unavailable, and unresponsive to their needs. As a result, the individual tends to shut down and becomes compulsively self-reliant, rejecting the importance of relationships rather than seeking the support of others.

“The ambivalent attachment style is born out of a relationship where the caregiver is intermittently responsive. The child never knows whether he or she will be responded to, so they tend to exaggerate negative emotions in an attempt to elicit a response. These individuals fear rejection and can be very clingy and needy, so it’s often hard for them to establish and maintain healthy relationships with others,” Dr. Markus explained.

Dr. Markus’ workshop will explore how the understanding of attachment organization is extremely helpful in addiction treatment. “In terms of clinical implications, it’s important to have a sense of the attachment style because this will alert the clinician to any potential challenges in the establishment of a therapeutic alliance, and it provides a way for the clinician to identify the client’s difficulties with affect regulation. Ultimately the clinician will want to become a secure base from which the client can begin to revise their internal representation of self and others,” Dr. Markus said.

“Neuroscience has also increased our understanding of the impact of attachment breaches on the brain,” she added. “Research on the neurobiology of addiction has contributed greatly to our understanding of addiction and treatment. Adding this to our understanding of interpersonal neurobiology and attachment theory helps inform our treatment approach with our clients. Individual therapy along with other approaches such as neurofeedback, meditation, mindfulness approaches, psychodrama, and somatic work are all valuable treatment strategies geared toward healing our clients and launching recovery.”

Promises Treatment Centers is part of Elements Behavioral Health, which aims to fill the gaps in mental health treatment between inpatient and outpatient psychiatric services; in co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders; and between traditional and alternative settings to help clients that are underweight or overweight due to eating related and other issues. The goal is for full recovery and well being with permanent life change and lifestyle improvement and not just symptom reduction. Our focus is not only on the patient, but on the health and support of the family system. Summit for Clinical Excellence is the premier provider of continuing education for mental health, behavioral health, and addiction professionals. For more information on the Savannah event, visit For more information on Dr. Donna Markus and Promises Treatment Centers visit or call 866.466.1276.


Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Keith Arnold
Visit website