Parents’ Drug Epidemic Leading to RAD

By Christine Miller

Let me start this off with a disclaimer that not all parental drug use leads to RAD; nor does all RAD result from parental drug use. Now that we’ve established this fact, let me explain the disorder known as RAD (and let you know why it is not short for “radical”). 

RAD is short for Reactive Attachment Disorder and is a condition in which an infant or young child does not form a secure, healthy emotional bond with his or her primary caretakers. We used to see RAD in children adopted from orphanages overseas, where they spent their formative months in the isolation of their crib, with bottles propped at feedings, never being soothed by loving arms because there were just too many babies and not enough caregivers. 

In recent years, we have seen an increase in RAD cases here in the United States, in Indiana, and right here in Grant County; it’s even appearing in children who have never been in an orphanage. Why? Studies have connected maternal substance abuse to a severe spike in attachment issues between children and mothers, often lasting clear through the child’s adult years. 

When parents use drugs, they are not available to meet the physical, psychological, and more so, the emotional needs of their child. When babies do not receive predictable and appropriate attention from their caregiver, they are unable to form normal attachments and sometimes resort to alternative ways to calm their distress.  

So what does RAD look like in the younger years?

  • An aversion to touch and physical affection
  • Control issues
  • Anger problems
  • Difficulty showing genuine care and affection (no empathy)
  • An underdeveloped conscience 
  • Violent outbursts that can last for hours (hurting selves, family members, and pets)
  • No realistic understanding of rules and consequences
  • Manipulation of people (being able to act differently, i.e. charming, around people outside of the home, but showing different behaviors at home)

How does RAD affect children in later years and does it further the cycle? As a child grows, they become less dependent on caregivers. For children with RAD, the search with external forms of emotional support and regulation continue into the teenage years, when many of them encounter drugs and alcohol for the first time. 

Since children with RAD have always been searching for that emotional control, they are more likely to be consumed by eating disorders, self-harming behaviors like cutting, aggression, hyper-vigilance, or perfectionism. Unhealthy relationships with others will normally follow them throughout their life; they always seek the bonds that others have, but they were never given the required skills and can never develop the healthy bonds they see in others.

The empty void this leaves often opens them up to a life of drug abuse and thus the cycle continues for another generation. Consequently, as the drug epidemic rises, the occurrence of RAD rises, and the tidal effect ripples throughout generations.

One thought on “Parents’ Drug Epidemic Leading to RAD

  • February 1, 2020 at 3:45 pm

    Great article it does explain a lot. right now in our area we have a lot of autistic children, let’s not come upon a child who is acting this way and get them confused. A lot of autistic children act this way also.
    Please keep up doing these great articles. We all need to understand and help our children as much as possible. It takes a village to raise our children. And it starts with being drug free parents.


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