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Dependent personality disorder

Definition

Dependent personality disorder is a mental health condition in which people depend too much on others to meet their emotional and physical needs.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Cause of dependent personality disorder is unknown. The disorder usually begins in childhood. It is one of the most common personality disorders and is equally common in men and women.

Symptoms

People with this disorder do not trust their own ability to make decisions. They may be very upset by separation and loss. They may go to great lengths, even suffering abuse, to stay in a relationship.

Symptoms of dependent personality disorder may include:

  • Avoiding being alone
  • Avoiding personal responsibility
  • Becoming easily hurt by criticism or disapproval
  • Becoming overly focused on fears of being abandoned
  • Becoming very passive in relationships
  • Feeling very upset or helpless when relationships end
  • Having difficulty making decisions without support from others
  • Having problems expressing disagreements with others

Signs and tests

Dependent personality disorder is diagnosed based on a psychological evaluation that assesses the history and severity of the symptoms.

Treatment

Talk therapy is considered to be the most effective treatment. The aim is to help people with this condition make more independent choices in life. Medicines may help treat other mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression, that occur along with this disorder.

Expectations (prognosis)

Improvements are usually seen only with long-term therapy.

Complications

  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Depression
  • Increased likelihood of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse

Calling your health care provider

See your health care provider or a mental health professional if you or your child has symptoms of dependent personality disorder.

References

Blais MA, Smallwood P, Groves JE, Rivas-Vazquez RA. Personality and personality disorders. In: Stern TA, Rosenbaum JF, Fava M, Biederman J, Rauch SL, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2008:chap 39.


Review Date: 11/17/2012
Reviewed By: Timothy Rogge, MD, Medical Director, Family Medical Psychiatry Center, Kirkland, WA. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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