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J Affect Disord. 1998 Mar;48(2-3):181-90.

Subpopulations of early separation anxiety: relevance to risk of adult anxiety disorders.

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Psychiatry Research and Teaching Unit, South Western Sydney Area Health Service, Liverpool, NSW, Australia.



The present study aims to examine whether discrete subpopulations can be identified according to their levels of early separation anxiety (SA), and if so, whether such a typology of SA influences risk to particular adult anxiety disorders.


Mixture analysis was applied to early SA scores provided retrospectively by a composite group (n=1800) of adult community and patient samples. The distribution of adult anxiety diagnoses across the SA categories was assessed in a community (n=136) and a clinic (n=74) sample.


The mixture analysis yielded two subpopulations according to SA scores. Odds ratios for assignment to the high SA category for the various anxiety disorders ranged from 3.6 to 6.7. A logistic regression analysis revealed that when comorbidity was taken into account, the panic disorder-agoraphobia (PD-Ag) group was the only anxiety disorder to be associated with the high SA category.


Assignment to a high early SA category appears to increase risk to adult anxiety disorders, particularly PD-Ag. Several possible pathways may account for such a risk including the persistence of separation anxiety disorder into adulthood.


Assessment of early SA was made using a retrospective measure and the samples included groups which were known to have high SA scores.


Only a subpopulation of anxiety sufferers may have elevated levels of SA. Identification of this group may be important for early detection and intervention.

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