Separation Anxiety In Adults

By Delialah Falcon. May 7th 2016

Many of us have heard of separation anxiety disorder. Typically when we think of separation anxiety, we think of it as a childhood disorder and not a condition that adults could suffer from (see: Separation Anxiety In Children Going To School). However, findings have revealed that adult separation anxiety disorder does exist. It is entirely possible for separation anxiety disorder to continue into, or even be newly diagnosed in, adulthood.

What Is Adult Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety refers to individuals who experience overwhelming and, at times, incapacitating stress that is associated with being separated from persons who matter to them the most. For children, this is typically the parents. For adults, the attachment figure could be a spouse, significant other or friend. Research studies performed within the past 15 years in both the United States and Australia have concluded that adult separation anxiety is a very real condition. It is now recognized as the mental disorder – Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder or ASAD.

What Are The Symptoms Of Adult Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety occurs when people feel excessive stress when faced with being separated from their home or from a prominent person in their lives. Characteristics of adult separation anxiety include:

  • Anxiety that is developmentally inappropriate regarding separation
  • Recurring episodes of overwhelming stress when faced with separation
  • Extreme worry about the well-being of attachment figures
  • Extreme worry that a major event will cause a separation from the attachment figure
  • Refusal to go to work or school because of fear of separation
  • Worry about being alone without the attachment figure
  • Refusal to go to sleep without the attachment figure being present
  • Refusal to sleep outside of the home
  • Persistent nightmares revolving around separation
  • Physical complaints when faced with a possible separation
  • Fear
  • Dependence on significant other
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Body function disturbances

Who Is Most Affected By Adult Separation Anxiety?

Research indicates that more women are affected by separation anxiety than men. However, men seem to have a greater onset of separation anxiety as adults while many women seem to have had the first onset beginning in childhood. Many factors appear to affect the prevalence of adult separation anxiety including marital status, education level and employment status. Risk factors for developing adult separation anxiety seem to be greater among the following groups:

  • Individuals that have been divorced or widowed
  • Individuals that have never been married
  • Individuals with less than 12 years of education
  • Individuals that are unemployed

How Can Adult Separation Anxiety Affect Your Life?

Adult separation anxiety disorder can be debilitating. It can affect many aspects of a person’s life and can interfere with relationships, household responsibilities and work. Often times, adult separation anxiety can also cause distress to the object of the person’s attachment. Separation anxiety can affect daily life in many ways including:

  • Causing fear, anxiety and worry that make it impossible for the person to function normally
  • Putting stress upon relationships
  • Preventing a person from forming healthy, stable relationships
  • Causing disturbances in sleep
  • Making each day difficult and unclear

What Is The Correlation With Other Psychological Disorders?

Many times, adult separation anxiety occurs in conjunction with other psychological disorders. Research estimates that more than 90 percent of adults with separation anxiety could be characterized as having another mental disorder as well. Additionally, adults with separation anxiety are more likely to have a drug dependency. The most common psychological disorders that are likely to be present with separation anxiety are:

  • Anxiety disorder
  • Phobias
  • PTSD
  • Depression
  • Mood disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Substance abuse
  • Drug dependency

How Is Adult Separation Anxiety Treated?

Because adult separation anxiety is a recently recognized disorder, there is no fixed procedure designed specifically for treatment. Typically, adult separation anxiety is treated as any other anxiety disorder would be using medications and therapy. Unfortunately, many adults suffering with separation anxiety never receive treatment or they seek treatment only for other disorders that are happening in conjunction with the separation anxiety. Treatment for separation anxiety would likely be treated with the following:

  • Antidepressants
  • Cognitive behavior therapy
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Group therapy

What Are Some Tips For Coping With Adult Separation Anxiety?

According to Hal Shorey, a psychologist from Widener University in Pennsylvania; there are different types of attachment styles. Attachment style or type refers to the way in which an individual reacts to separation and was most probably developed earlier in life due to parental relationships and life experiences. The three attachment types are: secure, anxious and avoidant.

  • Secure, meaning that the person is comfortable with intimacy, is loving and warm. This accounts for just over 50 percent of the population.
  • Anxious, meaning the person is always worrying about how their partner feels about them and if they are loved.
  • Avoidant, meaning the person does not emphasize closeness but rather dismisses it.

No matter the type of attachment style you seem to posses or if you are a combination of the three, it is important to begin to cope with separation anxiety as it occurs. If you find yourself in a constant chain of worry regarding separating from your loved one, you have to try to get those thoughts out of your head. Try to remind yourself of where you are and what you are doing. Grounding yourself in this way can help to distract your worry and control your thoughts. Additionally, you may try to distract your thoughts by engaging in another activity that requires brainpower such as reading or writing in a journal.

Separation anxiety, once thought of as only a childhood disorder, has been recently recognized as an adult disorder as well. If you feel you show signs of separation anxiety talk with your doctor or seek counseling.


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