Updated: Dec 3, 2020
What do you think of when you hear separation anxiety? You probably think of a young child who’s going off to preschool for the first time. It’s common for young children to show signs of fear when separated from their parents for the first time.
It makes sense. Children rely solely on their parents for all essential care for the first few years of life; without parents or caregivers, bad things could happen. So when there are any signs of separation, it’s natural for kids to be upset until they learn that it’s okay to be apart.
Did you know that adults can also suffer from separation anxiety? A lot of people have a preconceived notion that it is solely a childhood disorder, but that’s not true. According to a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, 6.6% of adults in the U.S. suffer from Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder (ASAD).
The signs can manifest in childhood first and persist into adulthood, however, a majority of cases of ASAD start at the onset of adulthood. The childhood variety is more common in women, while men tend to develop it more in adulthood.
Signs and symptoms vary amongst children and adults. General symptoms can include avoidance of being alone, distress over an attachment figure leaving or worrying that something bad may happen such as a sudden death. In children, this can look like fear and refusal of going to school or fear of being left home alone.
A large portion of individuals diagnosed with this form of anxiety also experiences physical symptoms as well, such as headaches, nausea and dizziness.
There is a high prevalence of family history, with 73% of people with symptoms also having a family member that suffers from it as well (Shaker Clinic).
Other risk factors for the disorder include early environmental experiences. This can be an unexpected death or separation from a loved one or going through a disaster which leads to separation. Those with a history of codependent relationships or the “hopeless romantic” types are also at an increased risk. Females are more likely to develop it as well.
Over time, if left untreated the fallout from this disorder can take a huge toll on a person's life. Ironically, social isolation can develop and worsen over time if left untreated. Increased relational conflicts, substance abuse problems or suicidal ideation can also occur.
It is important to seek help if you or someone you know is suffering from separation anxiety, whether it’s a child or an adult. Treatment could include medication to help reduce anxiety along with psychotherapy. Asking your family doctor for referrals or medication options is the best thing to do.