Worry is common symptom of generalized anxiety disorder, but it is also a feature of neuroticism, begging the question of whether or not worry is actually an expression of that personality trait rather than a symptom of the disorder.
IS WORRY IN GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER (GAD) THE MANIFESTATION OF A NEUROTIC TRAIT?
People with neurotic personality traits are more likely to develop GAD than non-neurotic people.
Both neuroticism and GAD run in the family.
Worry in GAD is strictly a symptom of GAD and is not related to neuroticism, which means that non- neurotic people who have GAD also exhibit that symptom.
The symptom of worry, a key criterion for a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), is not transitory but rather it appears to grow in severity over time. More particularly, excessive worry in GAD is related to early age of onset and longer duration of symptoms. On the other hand non-excessive worry is also associated with similar GAD outcomes, albeit with milder symptoms.
GAD and Neuroticism
Another interesting characteristic of GAD is that it appears to be interwoven with a certain personality trait, which leads certain researchers to argue that GAD may be an intricate part of the person’s personality. Notably, the cardinal symptom of GAD that is worry evokes a personality trait, and more particularly the personality trait of neuroticism.
Support for this argument comes from studies indicating that neuroticism is a risk factor for the development of GAD and, according to a twin study (i.e., twin studies are used to investigate whether genes or the environment predict a specific variable), GAD and neuroticism have a high genetic correlation (i.e., both GAD and neuroticism are highly heritable).
Nevertheless, the current 5-year longitudinal study (i.e., a study involving repeated observations of the same variables over a certain period of time) investigating the interrelationship between GAD, worry and neuroticism among adolescents concludes that while neuroticism and worry share similar characteristics, they are two separate constructs in GAD.
In other words the presence of worry in GAD does not necessarily reflect the existence of a neurotic personality trait.
Yasmina Rebani Lee
Hale WW 3rd, Klimstra TA, Meeus WH. Is the generalized anxiety disorder symptom of worry just another form of neuroticism? a 5-year longitudinal study of adolescents from the general population. J Clin Psychiatry. 2010;71(7):942-948. doi:10.4088/JCP.09m05506blu
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