Do I Have Separation Anxiety?

When many people think of separation anxiety disorder (SAD), their minds often associate it with children and maybe pets. This is understandable, as SAD is one of the most common anxiety disorders among children. However, what many people do not know is that SAD is also quite common in adults. This is known as adult separation anxiety disorder (ASAD). 

Many people tend to minimize ASAD in adults because they either don’t understand what it is, or they don’t understand how severe it can be. It is important to remember that ASAD is a clinically diagnosed disorder for a reason. This disorder can have very serious symptoms, and it can interrupt every aspect of daily life for those who have it.

Adults with ASAD deserve to be taken seriously, properly diagnosed, and appropriately treated. ASAD is highly treatable, but that can only happen if the individual struggling can recognize that they have a condition that needs to be treated. For those who may be struggling with ASAD, or feel that a  loved one may be struggling, it is critical to get proper evidence-based care as soon as possible.

What Are Separation Anxiety Disorder and Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder?

According to the publication Separation Anxiety by Joshua Feriante and Bettina Bernstein, found in the National Library of Medicine (NLM), SAD can be defined as “an exaggeration of otherwise developmentally normal anxiety manifested by excessive concern, worry, and even dread of the real or anticipated separation from an attachment figure.” The same article also states, “Although separation anxiety is a developmentally appropriate phenomenon, the disorder manifests with inappropriate intensity or the inappropriateness of age and context.”

There are clear delineations between childhood SAD and ASAD. They explain that the primary differences between children with separation anxiety and adults with separation anxiety are the “type of attachment figures involved.” For adults, these figures are often their children or their partners.

Potential Causes of Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder

The other differences that exist between childhood separation anxiety disorder (SAD) and adult separation anxiety disorder (ASAD) are the causes of the disorder. There are many more defined causes for children with SAD. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t also recognized causes specifically for adults with ASAD. Some of the causes of ASAD include:

  • The anticipation of being away from family or loved ones for an extended period of time
  • Having certain pre-existing psychological conditions, especially other anxiety, depressive, and mood disorders
  • Genetic conditions, such as blood relatives diagnosed with SAD or other anxiety disorders
  • Experiencing environmental or traumatic issues, which may involve separation from a loved one
  • Going through stressful life changes, such as a change in location, career, or family dynamics
  • Being previously diagnosed with SAD in childhood

Symptoms of Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder

There is a wide swath of symptoms that can be associated with ASAD. The article mentioned previously explains, “According to the DSM-5, a child, adolescent, or adult must exhibit a minimum of 3 of 8 symptoms that significantly impair social, academic, or occupational aspects of functioning lasting longer than four weeks that cannot be better explained by other causes.” Those symptoms include:

  • Poor sleep patterns, including sleeping too much or too little (insomnia)
  • Excessive nightmares
  • Worrying about the “attachment figure” being in distress, becoming injured, or even dying
  • Not wanting to be left alone for extended periods of time
  • Showing a poor or lowered performance at school, work, or in their career
  • An inability to concentrate
  • Having trouble socializing or feeling excessively uncomfortable in social situations
  • Prolonged periods of depression associated with attachment, which may even lead to self-harm and/or suicidal ideations or attempts

If three or more of these symptoms are detected in a person of any age, child or adult, it is time to seek professional help. The good news is that there are plenty of treatment options available for both SAD and ASAD.

Treatment Options for Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder

The options for treating adult separation anxiety disorder (ASAD) tend to fall into three categories. These categories are counseling, psychotherapy, and pharmacological treatment. Often, a combination of the three is most effective.

For those with less severe symptoms of ASAD, non-clinical counseling and support may be enough. On the other hand, for those with more intense symptoms, a form of psychotherapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and/or medication like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be the most effective choice.

Regardless of what treatment is ultimately deemed best for each individual, the most important part of getting someone with ASAD the help they need is first recognizing it. Those struggling with ASAD can find it completely debilitating. Luckily, there are helpful, hopeful, and healthy long-term recovery options available.

Adult separation anxiety disorder (ASAD) is an anxiety disorder that can often be minimized because there are many misconceptions that surround it. Separation anxiety is often confused with simply “missing” a loved one. However, while this dismissal is understandable, ASAD is a clinical disorder. ASAD predominantly differs from “normal” feelings of separation in the fact that the anxiety is much more pronounced, often considered at “inappropriate” levels, and lasts much longer than what would be considered “typical.” It is also important to understand that, while SAD is more common in children, ASAD affects many adults. If feel that you may be struggling with ASAD, we can help. Please contact Alter Behavioral Health today at (866) 691-4386 for more information.