Separation Anxiety Disorder And Addiction

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on April 19, 2021

Separation anxiety disorder is most common in children, but can also occur in adulthood and lead to other anxiety disorders and substance use disorders. Treating separation anxiety and any co-occurring substance use disorders in unison can be a successful option.

C0-Occurring Separation Anxiety Disorder And Addiction

Separation anxiety, which happens when a person feels fearful or nervous being separated from someone close to them, can be uncomfortable and even debilitating for those who suffer from it.

Some people will try anything to ease their stress and discomfort and may turn to drugs or alcohol, which can, in turn, lead to addiction.

Sadly, alcohol and drug use tend to make the symptoms of separation anxiety worse, just as separation anxiety can make the symptoms of substance abuse worse.

When these conditions are co-occurring, the most successful way to treat them both is to treat them together.

Learn more about dual diagnosis treatment options for anxiety and addiction

What Is Separation Anxiety Disorder?

Separation anxiety disorder is an anxiety disorder in which a person feels an irrational sense of fear or nervousness when separated from a particular person, group of persons, or pet.

The symptoms can be both mental and physical, as well as quite debilitating.

While separation anxiety is usually associated with children and pets and their attachment to a specific parent or owner, it can also occur in adults.

Less is known about separation anxiety in adults because it was only recently recognized as a disorder that occurs past adolescence.

Risk factors for separation anxiety include:

  • family history
  • female gender
  • low socioeconomic status
  • presence of other anxiety disorders
  • high level of stress
  • recent traumatic event involving death or loss

Who Is At Risk?

Separation anxiety is the most common anxiety disorder among children, but it is estimated that up to 6.6% of adults are afflicted with it as well.

Within the adult population, it is most common with people who have experienced a traumatic event — for example, a new mother who has experienced a traumatic pregnancy.

Symptoms Of Separation Anxiety Disorder

The symptoms of separation anxiety will present in different ways and levels of severity.

In general, someone who has a separation anxiety disorder will experience heightened states of worry, fear, and stress when apart from the person or pet that they are attached to.


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Symptoms of separation anxiety include:

  • high level of stress when separated from a specific person or pet
  • fear of being alone
  • high level of worry over leaving a specific person or pet alone
  • needing to know where a specific person or pet is at all times
  • difficulty leaving the home
  • constant fear of something bad happening
  • physical distress or panic attacks when triggered

As mentioned, the symptoms of separation anxiety can be both mental and physical and are known to lead to panic attacks.

The Relationship Between Addiction And Separation Anxiety

Someone with an anxiety disorder is up to three times more likely to struggle with an alcohol or drug dependency than someone without one.

These disorders can be extremely hard to live with and many will turn to drugs or alcohol as a way of relieving their symptoms.

But does an anxiety disorder lead to substance abuse or is the opposite possible as well?

Research has shown that about 20% of people with anxiety disorders also have substance use disorders.

On the other hand, 20% of people with substance use disorders also have an anxiety disorder.

How Are Addiction And Separation Anxiety Diagnosed?

Up until recently, separation anxiety disorder was only considered a possible diagnosis for people 18 and younger.

Now that it is recognized in adults as well, someone can be diagnosed with this disorder if they exhibit persistent symptoms for at least six months.

Separation anxiety disorder shares characteristics with other mental disorders, such as agoraphobia and post-traumatic stress disorder, and a doctor will always want to rule these out.

In addition, not only does a person need to exhibit persistent symptoms for an extended period of time, but they must also have symptoms that are severe enough to interfere with their work, school, or personal relationships.

How Are Addiction And Separation Anxiety Treated?

Treating a person’s addiction will not treat their separation anxiety, and if both are not treated together, a relapse is likely to occur.

Dual diagnosis treatment seeks to treat both the addiction and any underlying mental conditions together, so that long-term recovery becomes possible.

Treatment for a person’s addiction can include a variety of methods, depending on the severity of the addiction and also on the substance to which they are addicted to.

Addiction treatments include:

  • medical detox
  • inpatient drug rehab
  • outpatient services
  • residential rehabilitation

Treatment for a person’s separation anxiety can also vary but will usually include a few common courses of action.

Separation anxiety treatments include:

  • individual, family, and group therapy
  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • anti-anxiety medication

Treating a person’s anxiety while also treating their addiction will help to ensure lasting success and prevent relapse.

Finding Dual Diagnosis Treatment For Addiction And Separation Anxiety

Do you or a loved one currently have addiction and separation anxiety disorder at the same time? You may benefit from dual diagnosis treatment.

Give our helpline a call to find a dual diagnosis treatment center near you and get started on the right track today.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on April 19, 2021


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