Treatment Options for Separation Anxiety in Adults

While typically associated with childhood disorders, incidents of separation anxiety in adults have increased considerably over the past decade. In spite of the considerable age difference between the two groups, both forms of this condition bring about the same types of symptoms.

According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, adults affected by separation anxiety may experience feelings of fear and even panic when separated from any major attachment figure in their lives. Major attachment figures may take the form of:

  • Spouses
  • Boyfriends/girlfriends
  • Friends
  • Siblings

As far as degree of dysfunction goes, separation anxiety exists as a normal phase in childhood development (to a certain extent), whereas separation anxiety in adults qualifies as a full-blown anxiety disorder.

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Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Adults

mental health problems in adults

Adults experience separation anxiety, too. If this is a problem for you, know that help is available.

It’s not uncommon for symptoms of separation anxiety in adults to be mistaken for generalized anxiety, since it can be difficult to pinpoint the events or issues that trigger anxiety feelings. Symptoms of separation anxiety can take various forms depending on the severity of a person’s condition.

For some people, just the idea of having to do things without the spouse or sibling can bring on anxiety feelings. In other instances, anxiety symptoms may make it difficult for a person to go to work on a day-to-day basis.

Other symptoms of separation anxiety in adults include:

  • Avoiding being alone under any circumstances
  • Fear that harm will come to the attachment figure when he or she is away
  • Difficulty sleeping when the attachment figure is absent
  • Nightmares
  • Physical complaints that prevent the attachment figure from leaving

Treatment Options for Separation Anxiety in Adults

Over time, separation anxiety in adults can impair a person’s ability to function both socially as well as at the workplace. Not surprisingly, this condition tends to co-occur with other types of anxiety-based conditions such as bipolar disorder, according to the Journal of Human Psychopharmacology.

When left unidentified and/or untreated, symptoms of separation anxiety in adults may well interfere with the treatment of other psychological disorders in cases of co-occurring conditions. People struggling with separation anxiety also remain at high risk of turning to drugs or alcohol to help relieve anxiety symptoms.

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Treatment options for separation anxiety in adults closely mirrors those administered for children:

A person’s individual circumstances and the severity of symptoms experienced determine which treatment options will work best.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

As a primary treatment approach with children, cognitive-behavioral therapy is also used as a primary approach when treating adults. Anxiety, in general, takes root within a person’s thinking patterns, which in turn trigger certain emotional responses. Cognitive-behavioral therapy works to help adults identify destructive thinking patterns and replace them with healthy coping strategies for dealing with daily life situations.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy treatment equips adults with a range of coping skills, including:

  • Recognizing feelings of anxiousness brought on by separation
  • Identifying destructive thought patterns when facing separation from the attachment figure
  • Identifying physical responses to separation anxiety
  • Developing a plan for coping with separation anxiety scenarios

Family Therapy

Separation anxiety in adults affects the dynamics of the family much like any other form of psychological dysfunction. Considering how the attachment figure(s) plays a primary role within this context, family therapy can benefit both the person struggling with separation anxiety as well as the ones most affected by his or her behavior.

Rather than targeting the affected person as “the problem,” family therapy treatment creates a sense of teamwork while helping family members better understand what the affected person experiences. In some cases, the attachment figure may also be behaving in such a way as to aggravate anxiety symptoms in which case family therapy helps both parties develop a more healthy communication style.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Symptoms associated with separation anxiety in adults can greatly interfere with a person’s ability to cope with everyday life. Persistent worrying makes it difficult to sleep soundly or focus on carrying out daily tasks.

Before long, symptoms of separation anxiety in adults may drive a person to self-medicate with drugs and/or alcohol. Doing so only increases the severity of symptoms experienced while greatly increasing the likelihood of developing an addiction problem.

Dual diagnosis treatment specifically addresses co-occurring conditions involving mental illness and substance abuse. Treatment interventions used include:

  • Detoxification
  • Stabilizing a person’s physical state (after detoxification)
  • Medication treatment
  • Psychotherapy

In cases of prolonged or long-term substance abuse, other psychological disorders may also develop alongside separation anxiety in adults. Under these conditions, symptoms of depression, bipolar disorder or panic disorder may also require some form of medication treatment depending on symptom severity.

Aftercare Supports

Much like any other form of psychological disorder, separation anxiety in adults creates and maintains a state of chemical imbalance in the brain. Even after a person receives needed treatment help, it’s essential to have aftercare supports in place for follow-up purposes.

Needed aftercare supports can vary depending on a person’s condition, but in most cases should be in place for a minimum of a year after completing treatment. Aftercare supports may include:

  • Periodic psychotherapy sessions
  • Support groups
  • Medication adjustments

Aftercare supports become especially important in cases where substance abuse problems are involved as relapse episodes can quickly ruin any progress made.

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Treatment Considerations

While separation anxiety in adults may seem like something a person can deal with him or herself, it is nonetheless a form of anxiety disorder, which makes for a potentially debilitating prognosis when left untreated. People affected by separation anxiety in adults are:

Once a person does enter into treatment, it’s essential to provide as much information as possible regarding the types of thoughts and feelings he or she experiences in the absence of the attachment figure. Since anxiety disorders in general tend to bring about similar symptoms, this information can help the physician determine how to best address your treatment needs.


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