Reactive Attachment Disorder in Adults
The effects of reactive attachment disorder (RAD) in adults can be significant, interfering with someone’s ability to fully experience relationships, a positive sense of self, and mental health in general. Reactive attachment disorder is a trauma disorder of infancy and early childhood. Severe neglect prevents an infant from forming an attachment to a caregiving adult. The basic human need for protection, safety, and trust goes unmet and sometimes causes reactive attachment disorder (Effects of RAD in Teens and Children).
While according to the American Psychiatric Association’s (2013) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), reactive attachment disorder must be diagnosed between the developmental ages of nine months and five years, its effects are long-lasting, often extending into adulthood. Reactive attachment disorder in adults can involve significant psychopathology - dysfunction in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Risks of Reactive Attachment Disorder in Adults
Infants and young children with reactive attachment disorder face long-term risks that have consequences in their adulthood. Reactive attachment disorder in adults can mean poor adjustment in many areas of life. RAD also causes low self-esteem and sense of self-efficacy; the lack of support and attachment from birth results in adults who don’t believe in themselves and their ability to live well. This is especially true for those who haven't received treatment for reactive attachment disorder.
Perhaps the biggest risk reactive attachment disorder has in adults is with relationships. The first attachment relationship is important in paving the way for future relationships. Without forming a bond with a caregiving adult, the person often has great difficulty forming and/or maintaining future social and intimate relationships.
Reactive attachment disorder in adults can also put someone at risk for other mental disorders. Anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, dissociative disorders, and personality disorders are commonly experienced by people with reactive attachment disorder or other attachment problems.
Signs and Symptoms of Reactive Attachment Disorder in Adults
Certain behaviors as well as inner emotional experiences indicate reactive attachment disorder in adults. These signs and symptoms include:
- Withdrawal from connections
- Inability to develop and maintain significant relationships, romantic or otherwise
- Inability to show affection
- Resistance to giving and receiving love despite craving it
- Control issues
- Anger problems
- Sense of distrust
- Inability to fully grasp emotions
- Feelings of loneliness and emptiness
- Lack of a sense of belonging
Reactive Attachment Disorder in Adults Doesn’t Mean a Life of Loneliness
The effects of reactive attachment disorder in adults can cause distress and have a negative impact on overall mental health. RAD in adults, though, doesn’t mean hopelessness. It is possible to treat the effects of reactive attachment disorder. With support, someone who was diagnosed with RAD as an infant or young child can rebuild emotions and gradually learn the reciprocal behaviors and feelings of relationships.
Reactive attachment disorder can have long-term effects and cause dysfunction into adulthood. These effects are results of the trauma of extreme neglect; reactive attachment disorder in adults isn’t indicative of inherent shortcomings and defects. Separating the severe attachment problem from the person is an important part of healing. Reactive attachment disorder in adults is a mental health disorder that can be helped.
Last Updated: 24 October 2018
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD