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Dependent Personality Disorder


Dependent personality disorder (DPD) is an anxious personality disorder characterized by the inability to be alone. People with DPD develop symptoms of anxiety when they’re not around others. They rely on other people for comfort, reassurance, advice, and support.

People who don’t have this condition sometimes deal with feelings of insecurity. The difference is people with DPD need reassurance from others to function. According to the Cleveland Clinic, people with this condition normally first show signs in early to mid-adulthood.

Causes and Symptoms of DPD

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

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

DPD belongs to cluster C. Signs of this disorder include:

  • behaving submissively
  • relying on friends or family for decision-making
  • needing reassurance repeatedly
  • being easily hurt by disapproval
  • feeling isolated and nervous when alone
  • fearing rejection
  • being overly sensitivity to criticism
  • being unable to be alone
  • having a tendency to be naïve
  • fearing abandonment

People with DPD may require constant reassurance. They can become devastated when relationships and friendships are severed.

When alone, a person with DPD may experience:

  • nervousness
  • anxiety
  • panic attacks
  • 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 to receive a specific diagnosis if you experience any of the above symptoms.

It’s unknown what causes people to develop DPD. However, experts cite both biological and developmental factors.

Risk Factors

Some risk factors that might contribute to the development of this disorder include:

  • having a history of neglect
  • having an abusive upbringing
  • being in a long-term, abusive relationship
  • having overprotective/authoritarian parents
  • having a family history of anxiety disorders

How Is DPD Diagnosed?

Your doctor will give you a physical exam to see if a physical illness could be the source of symptoms, particularly anxiety. This may include blood tests to check for hormone imbalances. If tests are inconclusive, your doctor will likely refer you to a mental health specialist.

A psychiatrist or psychologist usually diagnoses DPD. They’ll take your symptoms, history, and mental state into account during diagnosis.

Diagnosis begins with a detailed history of your symptoms. This includes how long you’ve been experiencing them and how they came about. Your doctor may also ask questions about your childhood and your present life.

How Is DPD Treated?

Treatment focuses on alleviating symptoms. Psychotherapy (talk therapy) is often the first course of action. Therapy can help you better understand your condition. It can also teach you new ways to build healthy relationships with others and improve your self-esteem.

Psychotherapy is usually used on a short-term basis. Long-term therapy could put you at risk of growing dependent on your therapist.

Medications can help relieve anxiety and depression, but are generally used as a last resort. Your therapist or doctor may prescribe you a medication to treat panic attacks that result from 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.

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 characterized by a persistent fear of an object or situation)

Early treatment can prevent many of these complications from developing.

What’s My Outlook?

The cause of DPD is unknown, which makes it difficult to prevent the condition from developing. However, recognizing and treating symptoms early can prevent the condition from worsening.

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

Supporting Someone with DPD

DPD can be overwhelming. As with other personality disorders, many people are ashamed to seek help for their symptoms. This can affect quality of life and increase the long-term risk for anxiety and depression.

If you suspect a loved one might have DPD, it’s important to encourage them to seek treatment before their condition worsens. This can be a sensitive matter for someone with DPD, especially since they seek constant approval and don’t want to disappoint their loved ones. Focus on the positive aspects to let your loved one know they’re not being rejected.

Content licensed from:

Written by: April Kahn and Kristeen Cherney
Medically reviewed on: Nov 23, 2015: Steve Kim, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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