Ongoing substance abuse and its effect on the attachment quality of toddlers

Kimberly Patrice Kelly, Fordham University


This study examined the quality of attachment between mother and child when the mother continued to use drugs. This study also examined the relationship among ecological factors and attachment quality, specifically, paternal contact with the child, socioeconomic risks, and quality of the caregiving environment. The sample included 198 mother/child dyads from the Maternal Lifestyles Study (MLS), a large multisite investigation of the neurodevelopmental outcomes of children with a history of prenatal drug exposure. The sample was predominantly African American, single, and poor. Contrary to the results of previous research, this study found that ongoing maternal substance use, not the child's prenatal exposure status, was the crucial factor in the development of an anxious attachment pattern. The ecological factors examined in this study did not have an impact on attachment quality. The importance of this study is that it disentangle the effect of prenatal exposure to drugs from the effect of ongoing maternal substance use on socioemotional development. It also shows that some, as yet, unexamined element of either the childrearing environment, characteristics of the mother and her caregiving behavior, or differences in the child's susceptibility to rearing influences (Belsky, 1999), combined to protect almost half of the children from developing anxious attachments with their substance using mothers.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Kelly, Kimberly Patrice, "Ongoing substance abuse and its effect on the attachment quality of toddlers" (2002). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3061336.