Is Reactive Attachment Disorder In Adults Real?

By Mary Elizabeth Dean

Updated March 24, 2020

Reviewer Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

Researchers have learned much about reactive attachment disorder (RAD) in children-but does the disorder exist in adults? The answer is an absolute yes. RAD is a clinical diagnosis that affects both children and adults. Research shows that RAD can be present in people of any age from infancy to adulthood. The DSM-5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) states the criteria for RAD, stressing that the symptoms must be present before the age of five. The good news is, RAD can be cured in both children and adults. But if not dealt with, it can last a lifetime, which is why it's important to get diagnosed early so that treatment can be effective.

There Was Trauma In My Childhood - Do I Have Reactive Attachment Disorder?
Ask An Expert About Attachment Issues. Get Matched With A Licensed Counselor Online Now.


Understanding the Facts

There is much you can do to combat RAD, but perhaps the most effective is reaching out to someone for help, whether it be a professional or someone you trust who is close to you. The stress and anxiety you may feel as a result of your disorder can also be combated with methods including exercise and sleep management. We'll talk about these solutions later in the article.

Although you may not know anyone struggling with RAD, you're not alone. Studies show as many as 1.4% of the population with this condition. Luckily, therapy and time have shown great success in helping those who struggle with these issues. With the right support and knowledge, you can overcome the problems associated with RAD.

What Exactly Is Reactive Attachment Disorder?

Reactive attachment disorder is the result of a child not forming a secure attachment to a primary parent or caregiver before the age of five. The lack of an early relationship where the child's basic needs of food, shelter, warmth, and nurturing are not being met causes the child difficulties forming caring, loving relationships. If left untreated, it can cause sufferers to have problems with aggression. Early detection makes it much easier to treat the condition. However, adults can also benefit from therapy.


How Can You Evaluate Reactive Attachment Disorder in Adults or Children?

There is no definitive test for RAD, but clinicians have some good diagnostic tools at their disposal. The DSM-5 criteria describe the types of symptoms common in people of all ages with RAD. A thorough psychiatric evaluation can tell clinicians much about whether an adult or a child has the disorder.

The experienced counselors at BetterHelp are available to help you diagnose and treat RAD, or any other mental health condition.

The Connection between RAD and "ACEs Too High"

The ACEs Too High test reveals information about the effects of adverse childhood experiences, which can help diagnose RAD. Many sufferers of RAD were victims of trauma, severe neglect, or abuse as a child. ACEs Too High is a straightforward questionnaire that scores the impact of toxic stress. The acronym ACE stands for "adverse childhood experience." ACEs harm a child's brain as it develops, though the symptoms are sometimes delayed until the child is a teen or adult. The higher an individual's ACEs score, the greater the risk they have for serious health problems like chronic disease, mental illness, or violence.

Once you've been measured on the scale, you'll be at an advantage. Any additional information you can gather regarding your condition will make your path easier. Your goal in the early stages of treatment will be to gather as much information as you can to find the right treatment plan for you.

What Does RAD Look Like in Children?

Children with RAD have trust issues because they didn't trust adults to take care of them when they were small. They use coping mechanisms to help feel safe, which may include lying, manipulating, stealing, impulsivity, aggressive or controlling behaviors. They are often charming or charismatic, which deceives others into thinking they are socially appropriate. In reality, children and adults with RAD may lack empathy for peers and they can sometimes be cruel to animals.

There Was Trauma In My Childhood - Do I Have Reactive Attachment Disorder?
Ask An Expert About Attachment Issues. Get Matched With A Licensed Counselor Online Now.


Parents of children with RAD often struggle with feelings of guilt or helplessness. If the right parent isn't entrusted with the child's care, problems could worsen. Children don't often have the resources available to access help, so if you are someone that carried RAD into adulthood, this is probably why.

How Does RAD Manifest in Adults?

RAD follows children into adulthood when it's not appropriately treated during childhood. Adults with RAD have trouble being genuine in friendships and romantic relationships because they have difficulty showing empathy, remorse, trust, and compassion. It causes them to deny personal responsibility and continue the lying and manipulating behaviors they learned as children. They often feel that others blame them, which causes them to feel hopeless, helpless, stressed, depressed, isolated, and angry. This disorder leads some adults to addictive behaviors, including substance abuse, alcoholism, and sex addiction. Many of these behaviors may lead them into trouble with the law.

These issues can make an adult feel frustrated and misunderstood. What may appear to be a personality flaw on the surface has deep-rooted sources internally. Therefore, it is so important to reach out and get help when you need it.

Ways to Cope

Most of the coping skills treat the symptoms, not the disease. Nevertheless, they will help you live a more stress-free and happy life.

One solution addresses the anxiety produced by RAD. A popular coping skill for anxiety is developing a support system. Build a base of people you can call your "home team." Any time you're struggling with tough emotions, call someone and share your feelings. This will help relieve pressure and make you feel better overall.


Another option you can try is exercise. Exercising releases endorphins in your brain that produces good feelings. It not only makes for a healthy body but also a happy and healthy mind. You can channel all the negative energies you feel into a hard workout.

Many adults overlook the importance of self-care. This method is important for any mental health issue, including RAD. Make sure you are sleeping enough, getting enough to eat, and taking time to do things you enjoy daily. You must have the energy to overcome your problems.

How BetterHelp Can Help

The ultimate gift you can give yourself if you're struggling with RAD is professional help. Nothing measures up to the benefits of an experienced counselor or therapist who truly cares. The trained counselors and therapists at BetterHelp can give you the help you need to successfully overcome RAD. The platform is entirely online and offers affordable treatment plans. Not only do you have the benefit of connecting with your counselor online, but you can also do it at any time. The counselors are accredited and have thousands of hours of experience in the field. The online database will match you with the perfect therapist for you. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

"Baruch has been helping me sort out issues in dealing with my elderly father who was distant, very critical, and emotionally unavailable during my childhood and beyond. My father is currently verbally abusive to me and other family members in many instances. Baruch is wonderful. He has helped me with concrete and practical suggestions to help me deal with the immediate situation with my father and also more in-depth analysis of the whys and wherefores of the past… I felt immediately at ease with Baruch at our first session. He is an amazing listener and responds with such clarity and insight. In just a few sessions, he has helped me greatly. Highly recommend!"

"Natasha is a very insightful, kind and compassionate counselor. Her gentle, professional approach to guiding you through a problem shows her empathy and understanding. She helped me see some childhood issues that I hadn't addressed in years."


The issues of your past don't have to continue into your future. If you're tired of the negativity your RAD brings, the tools you need to escape are within reach. You can live a life free of your childhood traumas-all you must do is reach out and get help. Take the first step today.

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