Unveiling RAD Disorder: Understanding Reactive Attachment Disorder in Adults and Teens

This article will work to unearth the complexities of RAD disorder, a challenging and often misunderstood condition.


Reactive attachment disorder covertly influences adult and teen relationships, with symptoms that are often mistaken for mere personality traits or mood swings, leading to a series of interpersonal struggles.

Reactive attachment disorder is a condition that affects babies and young toddlers who do not establish long-lasting and safe bonds with their caregivers or parents. It is a very serious condition, one that is often associated with young children who have been the victim of:

  1. Abandonment
  2. Neglect
  3. Abuse
  4. Or has been orphaned

During the first few years of development, children start to form a deep connection in their brain to their caregivers or parents. This level of love, security, and attachment impacts the components of their development by providing a basic human need. When that isn’t provided before the age of five, it exposes children to the risks of RAD.

displeased angry black young woman clenching fist looking with aggression at camera over yellow studio background

Reactive attachment disorder symptoms at all ages

RAD is a very rare condition, but for those who have it, it is a serious one. Children in these situations are never able to establish a loving attachment to any adult. This lack of developed attachment can cause damage to the brain and affect the ability to form bonds and relationships moving forward. It can also lead to other problems, such as:

  1. Controlling behavior
  2. Aggressiveness
  3. Difficulty relating to peers
  4. Delinquency 

Once RAD has developed, it is a lifelong condition, but effective treatment programs can provide children, adolescents, and their subsequent caregivers or parents the skills necessary to develop healthier relationships.

Reactive attachment disorder symptoms can include:

  • Avoidant Behaviors
  • Emotional Withdrawal
  • Minimal Social Response
  • Control Issues

Without treatment, children will experience one of two groups of symptoms:

  1. Inhibited
  2. Disinhibited

Inhibited reactive attachment disorder symptoms

Inhibited is categorized as extremely withdrawn, where an individual exercises avoidant behaviors, seems unresponsive even when they are comforted, and has no emotional expression. They remain emotionally detached and avoid relationships.

Disinhibited reactive attachment disorder symptoms

Disinhibited is categorized as being extremely dependent on others, seeking attention, having no proper social boundaries, forming inappropriate attachments in order to get comfort, and acting very immaturely given their age.

mental health support for children and adolescent

Reactive attachment disorder in teens

When children with RAD disorder reach their teenage years, there are unique features of this condition that start to manifest and are easily confused with symptoms of other conditions. When a child reaches their teenage years, they can experience symptoms of RAD disorder, such as:

  1. Anger issues or behavioral issues that interfere with school performance and social relationships.
  2. Low self-esteem can cause individuals to withdraw socially.
  3. Challenges in functioning in a school environment can result in a learning disorder and poor school performance.
  4. Engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior or reckless behavior. 
  5. Feeling no remorse for bad choices, including things like illegal activity or animal cruelty.
  6. Being particularly vulnerable to the influence of peers.
  7. Trying to control everything in their life at all times can be detrimental to any social relationships.
  8. Poor eating habits can cause malnutrition or stunted growth.

-Identity Confusion

Identity confusion can result in several issues like low self-esteem, trying to control everything, inappropriate sexual behavior, disordered eating habits, and other behavioral problems with their peers.

-Risk-Taking Behaviors

Reactive attachment disorder in teens can manifest in the form of risk-taking behaviors. With limited social response and emotional withdrawal, it is more likely that children will:

  1. Risk getting in trouble at school by ditching or being absent
  2. Engage in risky sexual behaviors
  3. Try risky driving once they get a license, or even risk getting into legal trouble by driving without a license
  4. Drink underage or use drugs

-School Difficulties

Other RAD disorder symptoms include school difficulties. This can come from several aspects of reactive attachment disorder in teens, particularly things like avoidant behaviors and emotional withdrawal. 

When teenagers who have RAD lack any emotional connection to other people, it can increase social isolation, which can inhibit the ability to work together with others on things like group projects or to participate in school activities like team-based organizations or sports.

A depressed man lying in bed

Attachment disorder in adults

Attachment disorder in adults often has some of the same symptoms, including:

  1. Poor self-esteem
  2. Delays in learning which can inhibit career progression
  3. Antisocial behavior at work or in relationships
  4. Anger problems in work, relationships, and misdirected at others
  5. Relationship issues
  6. Depression and anxiety
  7. Substance abuse or alcohol addiction
  8. Regularly changing jobs or struggling with unemployment
  9. Displaying inappropriate sexual behaviors

-Intimacy Issues

There remain significant intimacy issues in adulthood. Inappropriate sexual behaviors can be a significant issue in adulthood, where sex is used as a tool to receive attention and support rather than as a way to form a stronger and healthier bond with an intimate partner.

-Commitment Challenges

Poor self-esteem can make it challenging for an individual with RAD to commit to someone else because they do not feel as though they are worthy of love, and therefore, they don’t believe that someone else would actually want to commit to them.

Issues with employment, substance abuse, anger problems, depression, or anxiety can all hinder intimacy and commitment as well. The symptoms can often be attributed mistakenly to things like depressive disorders or anxiety, especially social anxiety.

-Control in Relationships

The need to control the environment and other aspects of life remains a prominent symptom of reactive attachment disorder in adults. This need to control can come off as hostile and controlling, often mistaken for things like personality disorders. This need to control everything in a relationship can severely inhibit intimacy and commitment and, in the end, drive partners and friends away rather than draw them closer.

Summing Up

With reactive attachment disorder in teens or adults, it is imperative that people understand the symptoms and the ways in which they manifest at different stages of development. There is a need for increased visibility of RAD disorder, and it’s imperative to show compassionate support for those grappling with attachment disorder in their teenage years or adulthood.