Separation Anxiety Disorder in Adults


ICD-10 code: F93.0

Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is part of a cluster of diagnoses called the anxiety disorders.  Anxiety disorders are a group of psychiatric conditions that include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • Specific phobia

These disorders are characterized primarily by the experience of excessive fear and anxiety.  People with generalized anxiety disorder spend a lot of time worrying about a lot of different things.  People with social anxiety disorder feel very anxious around other people because they are afraid of embarrassing themselves or being disliked.  People with panic disorder have sudden rushes of intense fear or discomfort called panic attacks.  They often worry about having another panic attack and might avoid certain situations that might trigger a panic attack.  People with agoraphobia are afraid of going into certain situations because they are afraid it might be difficult to escape or because they might experience panic-like or other embarrassing symptoms.  Commonly avoided situations are using public transportation, being in open spaces like parking lots, being in enclosed places like movie theaters, or being in a crowd.  People with a specific phobia are afraid of a certain object or situation, such as flying, heights, animals, or seeing blood.  People with separation anxiety disorder are afraid of being away from a certain person, usually because they are afraid that something bad might happen to them or the other person if they are separated.

The anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive fear and anxiety, along with behavioral disturbances, like avoiding certain places, people, or situations.  The anxiety disorders differ from each other in the target or focus of the fear.  In some anxiety disorders, like specific phobia, the person is only excessively fearful of a very specific object or situation.  In other anxiety disorders, like GAD, the person may feel anxious a great deal of the time or about a lot of different things.

What is separation anxiety disorder?

SAD is a psychiatric disorder that affects approximately 6% of adults at some point in their lives and 1 - 2% of adults in a given year.  Onset often occurs in childhood and persists into adulthood, although adult onset can occur.  SAD is characterized by significant fear and anxiety about being separated from significant attachment figures, usually a spouse or child.

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Understanding Separation Anxiety Disorder

SAD severity can range from relatively mild to severely impairing.  In severe cases, SAD can lead to difficulty attending or performing well at work, and may inhibit the individual's ability to travel independently.  SAD may cause conflict and frustration for attachment figures, who may feel pressured to comply with the individual's demands for constant closeness.

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How is separation anxiety disorder treated?

At this time, there is not enough scientific information to inform us about what treatments are effective for adults with separation anxiety disorder.  We recommend that any individual struggling with a mental health or learning disorder speak to their doctor about it, and consider consulting with a therapist or other appropriate specialist.

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