Dependent Personality Disorder

Written by April Kahn | Published on June 25, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD on June 25, 2012

What Is Dependent Personality Disorder?

Dependent personality disorder (DPD) is an anxious personality disorder characterized by the inability to be alone. People with dependent personality disorder rely on other people for comfort, reassurance, advice, and support.

Although people who don’t have the condition sometimes have these feelings, people with DPD cannot function unless they get reassurance from others. People with DPD develop symptoms of anxiety when they are not around others. According to the Cleveland Clinic, this condition normally manifests in early to mid-adulthood (ClevelandClinic).

What Causes DPD?

What causes people to develop dependent personality disorder is not known. However, experts cite both biological and developmental factors. Having an overprotective parent, for example, may trigger the condition.

What Are the Symptoms of DPD?

For a disorder to be classified as a personality disorder it must fall into one of the following clusters:

  • Cluster A: awkward or eccentric behavior
  • Cluster B: exaggerated or erratic behavior
  • Cluster C: anxious, nervous behavior

Dependent personality disorder belongs to cluster C.

Signs of dependent personality disorder include:

  • submissive behavior
  • relying on friends or family for decision making
  • needing reassurance repeatedly
  • being hurt easily by disapproval
  • feeling isolated and nervous when alone
  • fear of rejection
  • sensitivity to criticism
  • inability to start projects
  • inability to be alone
  • a tendency to be naïve
  • fear of abandonment

People with DPD may require constant reassurance. They are also devastated by the severing of relationships and friendships.

When alone, a person with DPD may experience:

  • nervousness
  • anxiety
  • fear
  • hopelessness

Some of these symptoms are the same for people with anxiety disorders. People with medical conditions, such as depression or menopause, may also experience some of these symptoms. Contact your doctor if you experience any of the above symptoms to receive a specific diagnosis.

How Is DPD Diagnosed?

Your doctor will give you a physical examination to see if any physical ailment could be causing the symptoms; particularly anxiety. This may include blood tests to check for hormonal imbalances. If all the tests are inconclusive, your doctor will refer you to a mental health specialist.

Those who suffer from DPD are usually diagnosed by a psychiatrist. Diagnosis begins with a brief history of your symptoms. This includes how long you’ve been experiencing them, and how the symptoms came about. He or she may also ask questions about your present life and your childhood. There isn’t any one test used to diagnose DPD; the doctor will take into account your symptoms, history, and mental state.

How Is DPD Treated?

Medications, including antianxiety and antidepressants, are often prescribed to minimize the symptoms of anxiety. These drugs may also be prescribed to treat panic attacks that may sometimes be experienced as a result of extreme anxiety. Some medications for anxiety and depression are habit-forming, so you may have to see your doctor regularly while taking them to prevent prescription dependence.

Psychotherapy (talk therapy) is often helpful in treating people with dependent personality disorder. Therapy helps a person understand his or her condition. It also teaches the patient ways to build healthy relationships with others. Talk therapy is also used to promote better self-esteem and assertiveness.

What Are the Potential Complications of DPD?

Complications that can arise from untreated DPD are:

  • anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder, avoidant personality disorder, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
  • depression
  • substance abuse
  • phobias—anxiety disorder that is characterized by a persistent fear of an object or situation

Early treatment can prevent many of these complications from developing.

Future Health Outlook

People with DPD generally improve with treatment. Many of the symptoms associated with the condition will decrease as treatment continues.

Can DPD Be Prevented?

Since the cause of DPD is unknown, there is no way to prevent the condition from developing. However, early recognition of the symptoms and early treatment can prevent it from worsening.

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