Reactive Attachment Disorder: What It Is and How to Treat It

teen boy with hand out to keep people away

08 May Reactive Attachment Disorder: What It Is and How to Treat It

Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) is a somewhat rare mental health disorder that affects between one to six percent of the population. It is developed in early childhood (before the age of 3) when a child fails to form a healthy emotional attachment to his/her primary caregiver, which in normal circumstances would be the mother.

Symptoms

Reactive attachment disorder is characterized by a wide range of social and emotional problems. Individuals affected by RAD struggle to form lasting relationships and to give or receive love, even while they strongly desire to be loved and accepted. The Institute for Attachment & Child Development lists the following characteristics as symptomatic of RAD:

  • lack of trust or empathy;
  • inability to handle conflict;
  • inability to process causes and effects;
  • destructive, hostile, argumentative, or cruel behavior;
  • controlling or manipulative behavior;
  • a lack of responsibility or remorse for their wrong actions;
  • lack of impulse control;
  • addiction;
  • resistance to efforts by others to nurture or guide them; and
  • angry or negative behavior that provokes others.

Causes

The IACD, as well as studies from other institutes, show that reactive attachment disorder develops from external factors, such as:

  • pre-birth exposure to drugs or alcohol;
  • premature birth;
  • trauma, such as abuse, neglect, or abandonment;
  • foster care or adoption;
  • multiple changes in caregivers;
  • maternal depression;
  • emotionally distant parents;
  • loss of a parent (via death or divorce); or
  • a serious illness.

Development

RAD affects the area of the brain, the right frontal lobe, that performs abstract reasoning. This causes the disconnect between their emotions and their actions.

As mentioned, RAD develops at a very young age, and sometimes, it even develops before the child is born. Dr. Chiara Nosarti of the Institute of Psychiatry in London stated, “We found a very strong link between premature birth and a range of psychiatric disorders.” This study found that premature babies—particularly those born at 32 weeks or less—are highly at risk for developing serious mental disorders, with the risk factor being 1.3 to 2.7 times higher than for full-term babies.

This view is supported by researchers of various studies who have concluded that this is due to the impact that premature birth can have on early brain development and “physiological systems that support emotional and behavioral regulation”.

Treatment

Because of its broad definition, RAD can be difficult to pinpoint. However, if you notice a number of these symptoms in your teen, it’s possible that he or she may be suffering from reactive attachment disorder. In this case, professional treatment is necessary and a teen rehab treatment center with licensed therapists can help.



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