Dependent personality disorder is a mental disorder characterized by a recurring pattern of needy behavior.
Dependent Personality Disorder Defined
Individuals suffering from this disorder have an uncontrollable need to be cared for or protected by others and develop socially deviant personality traits that are designed to encourage others to provide that support. This need for assistance usually derives from fear of abandonment and a lack of self-confidence.
Symptoms of Dependent Personality Disorder
According to the DSM-5, people suffering from dependent personality disorder show up to 8 distinct symptoms. These symptoms are:
- Difficulty with decision making unless receiving advice or support from another individual
- Regularly requiring others to shoulder their responsibilities
- Unwillingness to disagree with others for fear of disapproval
- Inability to independently start activities or projects
- A willingness to allow others to impose rather than face any form of rejection
- Emotional vulnerability and helplessness
- Excessive need to enter a new relationship after the end of another
- Absolute conviction of inability to care for self or perform daily activities alone
These symptoms may manifest in many different ways, depending on the exact circumstances of the person suffering from the disorder.
Two very common manifestations of these symptoms are self-deprecation and interpersonal relationships that can be described as “clingy”.
Very often people suffering from this disorder do not maintain any meaningful relationships with anyone who does not provide some sort of support.
Diagnostic Test of Dependent Personality Disorder
Dependent personality disorder is diagnosed in approximately 0.5% of the population.
While there are many environmental factors that can cause dependent personality disorder, children that experience separation anxiety disorder or any type of chronic physical illness are particularly likely to be predisposed to this disorder and more likely to be diagnosed with it at a later point in their life.
Diagnosis for dependent personality disorder generally requires a mental health professional. General practitioners may be able to identify basic signs, and pediatricians in particular are likely to be able to identify predisposition in a child if they are well informed, but only mental health professionals are able to accurately diagnose the disorder.
Like most personality disorders, this is because the symptoms of dependent personality disorder can be easily confused with similar disorders or with symptoms of certain types of substance abuse. Mental health professionals can make an accurate diagnosis after a psychological examination, either in a controlled setting, in the field, or sometimes in both settings.
Alcohol & Personality Disorders
According to clinical studies, the prevalence of personality disorders with alcoholism ranges from as low as 22-40% to as high as 58-78%. The studies have focused primarily on antisocial and borderline personality disorders, however, almost the whole spectrum of personality disorders can be encountered in alcohol dependence, such as the dependent, avoidant, paranoid and others.
An Oxford study indicated 40% or alcohol use disorder clients had at least 1 personality disorder. For more in-depth information, see this research alcohol & personality disorders.
Personality Disorders and Substance Abuse
In a study done in 2012 (In-depth study of personality disorders in first-admission patients with substance use disorders) they discovered 46% of the substance abuse (SUD) patients had at least one Personality Disorder (16% antisocial [males only]; 13% borderline; and 8% paranoid, avoidant, and obsessive-compulsive, respectively).
Cluster C disorders were as prevalent as Cluster B disorders. SUD patients with PDs were younger at the onset of their first SUD and at admission; used more illicit drugs; had more anxiety disorders, particularly social phobia; had more severe depressive symptoms; were more distressed; and less often attended work or school.
Dependent Personality Disorder Treatment
Like nearly all personality disorders, the most effective treatment for dependent personality disorder treatment is long term psychotherapy. The symptoms of dependent personality disorder are a consequence of fear, which derives from a lack of trust. This statement is true for other personality disorders, like psychotypal personality disorder, but unlike most other personality disorders, this lack of trust doesn’t drive the person away from other people. Instead it drives them to an uncontrollable need to maintain those relationships at all cost.
Treatment for dependent personality disorder is based on shoring up that lack of trust and helping the patient to understand that their relationships are not constantly at risk.
Once that trust is built, they are usually able to gain increased self-confidence and decreased need for constant support.
Finally, because this disorder fades with age in almost everyone who suffers it, in milder cases treatment may focus almost entirely on symptoms. Between medication (which is only meaningfully effective to treat secondary symptoms) and mental training, symptoms can be ameliorated, allowing the patient to live a reasonably normal lifestyle until they simply age out of the disorder.
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