How do people get treatment for separation anxiety disorder, and does it work? Get the answers, and find treatment options, on this page.

Separation anxiety treatment is similar to treatments used for other anxiety disorders. There are a variety of treatments that may be recommended depending on the severity and the circumstances of each specific person’s disorder.

Possible separation anxiety disorder treatments include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Exposure therapy
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Medications, usually selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

Therapies for Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety therapy focuses on directly addressing the client’s separation anxiety disorder. There are a few different types of therapy available for the treatment of separation anxiety: cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy (a form of cognitive behavioral therapy) and dialectical behavioral therapy. These sessions may occur one-on-one between a client and therapist or with the client and family members or loved ones.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is the primary type of treatment used for separation anxiety disorder. This method is a style of psychotherapy that is typically conducted be with the client and the therapist or counselor. Cognitive behavioral therapy can also consist of family members or loved ones. When the family or attachment figure and the client both have the opportunity to understand each other’s struggles that revolve around anxiety, treatment is smoother.

This therapy focuses on teaching the client how to recognize anxious feelings pertaining to separation and how to modify reactions to anxiety. People who participate in cognitive behavioral therapy can learn to identify their thoughts in anxiety-inducing situations and how to adapt to the situation.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy is a behavioral treatment that focuses on regulating emotions and learning to cope with pain. This style of therapy emphasizes individual and group training to help the client learn new skills to cope with stress, like:

  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness
  • Regulating emotion
  • Stress tolerance
  • Improved social skills

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is not typical counseling but is a psychological treatment, and an extension of cognitive behavioral therapy, that helps people confront their fears. When people fear something, they tend to avoid those feared objects, activities or situations. Avoidance may help reduce the fear for a short while, but over time it can worsen the fears.

During exposure therapy, a psychologist creates a safe environment in which they can expose the client to the objects they fear and avoid. The exposure to fears in a safe environment, coupled with CBT techniques, helps reduce fear and decrease avoidance.

Separation Anxiety Medications

If psychotherapy is unsuccessful or if the symptoms are so severe that they are almost unbearable, medication for separation anxiety may be considered a viable option. However, there are no medications specifically approved to treat separation anxiety disorder. Some drugs may help with symptoms of separation anxiety disorder.

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): These drugs are first-line treatments, but can take eight to 12 weeks to take effect. SSRIs can treat anxiety and depression and are useful for long-term stabilization and treatment of anxiety symptoms.
  • Benzodiazepines: In some rare cases, benzodiazepines may be used initially for severe and short term (acute) anxiety symptoms while the SSRI is taking effect. Benzodiazepines work on the first dose but can be addictive. These drugs should be used infrequently.
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): If SSRIs do not work for the client, the next step is usually SNRI drugs.
  • Tri-cyclic antidepressants (TCAs): If SNRI medications prove ineffective for the client, TCAs may be prescribed.

Treating Separation Anxiety and Co-Occurring Disorders

Treating separation anxiety and a co-occurring disorder (dual diagnosis) may be more complicated than treating the anxiety alone. The treating physician must have the ability to address client’s anxiety-related symptoms as well as the other illness at the same time.

Separation anxiety and substance abuse is a common co-occurring issue. If the individual only seeks treatment for the anxiety, without treating the substance use, the anxiety may return until the use of drugs or alcohol ceases.

If you think you or your loved one has a drug or alcohol addiction and co-occurring separation anxiety, contact a treatment facility today. The Recovery Village can provide compassionate care to individuals who struggle with drug abuse and separation anxiety symptoms. To learn more, call The Recovery Village today to speak with a representative.

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Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD, BCPS, CACP
Dr. Sheehy completed his BS in Molecular Biology at the University of Idaho and went on to complete his Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) at the University of Washington in Seattle. Read more

Wehry AM, et al. “Assessment and treatment of anxiety diso[…]dren and adolescents.” Psychiatry, July 1, 2015. Accessed March 13, 2019.

Stone, Lisanne L. “Relations Between Parental and Child Sep[…]sychological Control.” Journal of child and family studies, January 18, 2015. Accessed March 13, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.