Adult separation anxiety disorder (ASAD) can be a very difficult anxiety disorder to live with…both for the person who has it and for the person they’re “attached” to. This is because when these two people spend time away from each other, the one with the disorder can be very uncomfortable and irritable and when they are together, the other person can feel suffocated by the person with the disorder.
If you suffer from ASAD, you may be “attached” to your spouse, a friend, a relative, a particular place, or even your child. All this attention on the other person can cause them to feel extremely uncomfortable in your presence. Sadly, a lot of times these relationships do not survive because of their unbalanced nature.
An affected adult thinks and believes that some type of harm will come to the person to whom they’re attached if they’re not together, so they develop strategies and ways to maintain a close connection with them. If they sense they might be separated, they face the risk of having a panic attack.
Even though adult separation anxiety disorder was only discovered to be a mental disorder in the 1990s, it’s estimated that about 6.6% of adults in the United States suffer from this disorder. That’s nearly 15 million adults in just the United States, so you can see this is not a rare disorder.
If you suffer from this disorder, it should be a little comforting to realize you’re not the only person who has it…6.6% of the adult population of the United States is about twice the population of New York City!
Adult separation anxiety disorder is not a disorder that’s unique to childhood, nor is it the same as separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is a normal stage of development for infants which starts at around eight months of age and lasts until 13 to 15 months or so.
Most cases of adult separation anxiety disorder begin in the late teens or early twenties…nearly 80% of all cases begin by age 30. More women than men suffer from ASAD, but men are more likely than women to have their first bout of ASAD in adulthood.
There is a connection with childhood because about one-third of
adults with adult separation anxiety disorder had a case of childhood
separation disorder that began in their youth. Most adults with ASAD
had their first experience with it as an adult.
Because these are three of the most important areas of a person’s life, it’s obvious that getting treatment for this disorder is extremely important. The majority of sufferers of this disorder are separated, widowed, or divorced; they have less than a high school education; and they are either unemployed or employed in low-wage, non-traditional occupations.
To further complicate things in a person’s life, compared to those without the disorder, those with ASAD are:
It’s important to mention that while adults aged 60 and older are the smallest group of people with ASAD, they usually are separated more from friends and family because they often move out of their homes in order to be near their grown children or other relatives who can take care of them or they move into assisted living facilities away from many of their friends and family.
They also lose friends and loved ones to death more often than people in other age groups.
As a consequence, senior adults can be profoundly affected by adult separation anxiety disorder...it’s important for their caretakers and doctors to be aware of this.
Whether you are age 60 or 20, anyone can develop ASAD. When it’s discovered, it’s vitally important to be treated because effective treatment can dramatically improve your quality of life.
Dr. Vijaya Manicavasagar is one of the leading researchers into the causes and treatments for ASAD. I was privileged to conduct an interview with Dr. Manicavasagar that's included in my book, Five Strategies for Living with Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder, available on Amazon.com. Here's a short video of Dr. Manicavasagar that you will enjoy.
There are a variety of separation anxiety disorder symptoms (this page has a more extensive list of symptoms). It is important to be aware of these symptoms and make an accurate list of them for your doctor. This will help your doctor determine whether you have separation anxiety or another type of anxiety disorder.
The main symptom of separation anxiety is a fear of being separated from the person you're "attached" to. Whether it's your spouse, a sibling, your child, or even a friend, that person's absence is very unsettling to you. You may even find yourself crying, experiencing heart palpitations or having headaches or stomach aches when you're not with that person. Some people may even have a
If these things happen to you, seek treatment from your doctor
or mental health professional. It’s important for you to take action
and not delay getting some help.
Adult separation anxiety disorder results because of constant anxiety about being separated for significant amounts of time from people or places that are familiar.
For some people, it can actually start the minute a person leaves your presence; for others, it may not start for an hour or so. Everybody is different, but it’s not normal to be upset to the point of panic when you’re apart from a loved one or a special place.
When you are stressed because of a tremendous load of anxiety, your body and mind will eventually break down and you’ll start to feel the symptoms that are listed above.
As time goes by your body becomes unable to take the stress created by the constant anxiety and you’ll begin to want your loved one to be with you all the time or you may not want to leave areas that are familiar to you. This causes you to literally become a prisoner of your condition and it places a great deal of stress on your loved one.
One of the most important things for you to do when you visit the doctor is to be completely honest about your thoughts and behaviors when someone you love is not with you. This is very helpful to your doctor in designing the appropriate treatment plan for you.
It’s also important because in many cases, you may have another anxiety disorder or depression in addition to the adult separation anxiety disorder. Many anxiety disorders have very similar symptoms, so your input is vital to helping your doctor determine what is bothering you.
For a list of helpful and recommended resources, click here.