Abstract: Attachment and Its Association to the Perception of Risk Factors for the Intergenerational Transmission of Substance Abuse Disorders (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

52P Attachment and Its Association to the Perception of Risk Factors for the Intergenerational Transmission of Substance Abuse Disorders

Thursday, January 12, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Amanda Keller, MSc, Doctoral Candidate, McGill University, QC, Canada
Emily Bosk, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Alicia Mendez, MSW, Doctoral Student, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Brett Greenfield, MSW/MDiv, Ph.D. Candidate, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Michael MacKenzie, Professor, McGill University, QC, Canada
Background and Purpose: Substance use disorders (SUD) are known to run in families with a complex interplay between environmental, social and genetic risk factors. Yet there is limited research on how parents with SUD understand the intergeneration transmission of SUD. This has the potential to impact parenting strategies, infant and parental attachment, and openness towards preventative interventions. This study qualitatively examines how mothers in residential treatment for SUDs think about their children’s inherited risk of SUD and it examines if the mother’s attachment style is associated to their understanding.

Methods: Data from this study is drawn from a larger project examining treatment for caregivers with SUD and their young children ages zero to five being served by three child and family serving agencies in a Northeastern state in the United States. Agencies were selected based on their involvement in a new initiative to implement a Trauma-Informed Care intervention, the Attachment, Regulation, and Competency (ARC) model. Twenty-nine in-depth, semi-structured Working Model of the Child Interviews (WMCI) were conducted with mothers receiving treatment for SUD. The WMCI (Zeanah, Benoit, & Barton, 1986) assesses caregiver internal representations of their child and the relationship with the child. WMCI interviews were then clinically coded for attachment style. Then, in a separate process, qualitatively analyzed, using content analysis, to examine maternal concerns related to intergenerational risk for the development of SUDs in their children.

Results: Data analysis reveals that 29% of mothers report high levels of genetic anxiety about their children’s risk factors for developing a SUD when asked general questions pertaining to their thoughts about their child’s future. In contrast, 42 % verbalized that they actively did not want to think about their child’s future. Among mothers who report genetic anxiety, the vast majority show balanced attachment styles. Whereas avoidant and ambivalently attached mothers were more likely to articulate their unwillingness to think about their children’s future. An unwillingness to think about the future may be indicative of genetic anxiety but expressed differently, especially among mothers with an avoidant attachment style.

Conclusion and Implications: Findings suggest that many mothers with SUD express concerns regarding their children's future risk for developing a SUD. Further, these concerns may map onto attachment classifications. Parental anxiety about the intergenerational transmission of substance abuse may be an important component of intervention for SUD parents. To avoid self-fulfilling prophecies, psychoeducation related to the complexity of risk factors for addictions could alleviate some of these concerns. Further, examining parents’ worries for their children may provide needed insights for interventions to address parental guilt, shame, and anxiety. Parents with avoidant and ambivalent attachment styles may need to be differently engaged about these fears, given their desire to not think about the future. Finally addressing genetic anxiety can help impress on parents the importance of environments and sensitive caregiving to prevent their children’s future substance abuse.