On the individual IP level, the diagnostic characteristics of AED may be quite varied. These young people may originally suffer from social phobia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, depression, conduct disorder, ADHD or learning disabilities, or none of the above. In spite of this variability, the symptoms and relational patterns of AED tend to remain surprisingly stable across individual pathologies.
Dependent young adults in AED families tend to reverse the day-night cycle. Many live in various degrees of isolation, many times their rooms are locked during most of the day, and they immerse themselves in digital media addictions. Over time, the entire family becomes isolated; parents’ social ties are cut off, and the family home becomes yet another shielding layer against the dangers of the external world, which effectively deepens the dependent adult’s isolation. AED young adults typically do not work or study, nor do they develop romantic or sexual attachments. As time goes, by their social existence grinds to a halt. Interaction patterns between them and their parents become paradoxical: they are absent yet present, they blame their parents, yet consuming their resources, they are independent in their discourse (“I’m old enough not to tell you who I am on the phone with”), but obviously are dependent in their conduct.
The family often seems caught in a vicious cycle in which the very attempts by the dependent adult or his parents to alleviate the condition actually aggravate it. For example, the dependent adult may try to alleviate his or her distress by pressing for more parental protection and services. However, this increased protection and accommodation can actually reduce his or her ability to cope independently. The parents, in turn, feel obliged to come to their child’s rescue, but the more they do, the less the child is able to function. Occasionally, frustration may lead a parent to pose impulsive and rigid demands. The dependent adult responds in kind, escalating his behavior, perhaps by exhibiting violence or suicidality, after which the temporary bout of “tough parenting” usually recedes. Thus, escalation adds another turn of the screw to the family trap.
If parents express their wishes to change the situation or if they try to reduce their services, the young person may react violently or threaten, which only leads to further deterioration, a total break in the relationship, or even suicide. Parents then recoil in fear and accept the status quo as the lesser evil. They also continue to hope that their child will become more independent, perhaps through therapy or by a process of inner maturing. However, when things have gone so far, these hopes are usually unfounded.