Life is always changing and it is natural for use to go through an adjustment period following any kind of stressful event. People who are experiencing a significant change in their work, personal life, or education will need time to make the adjustment in a healthy way that works for them. However, if a person is not able to cope with a situation, the problem will start interfering with other areas of their life, causing increased stress, a feeling of hopelessness, and/or illness when the adjustment disorder takes place.
It is important to make the distinction between the normal coping process and an adjustment disorder, which only happens if the reaction to something is more than what would be expected for that particular event. No abnormal situation is easy to cope with, but it is especially difficult for someone to cope with symptoms that make it practically impossible.
For those who are struggling with an adjustment disorder, there is good news about the condition’s treatment options. Recognizing the underlying cause of a disorder often helps when finding a solution that will work. Adjustment disorders usually improve with the right kind of treatment, and it will become possible to move past whatever stress was causing the downward spiral initially.
Causes of Adjustment Disorder
When determining exactly what is causing an adjustment disorder, a medical professional will take several characteristics of a situation into account. Once they locate a trigger for the stress, it becomes much easier to treat it effectively. There are many reasons for someone to experience an adjustment disorder and here are the commonly known stressors for any person of any age:
- Tragedy: the loss of a friend or loved one
- Illness: sudden onset or diagnosis of an illness or condition for an individual, friend, loved one or acquaintance
- Relocation: a move to another city, state, or home, starting a new job or school
- Economic struggles: becoming anxious about a loss of income, job or money
- Catastrophes: any unexpected traumas that have an immediate or lasting impact
- General changes: large or small changes with any aspect of a person’s life
- Problems with relationship: a divorce, marriage problems, a strained situation with family members or a damaged friendship
Young adults and teenagers can also experience adjustment disorders from these triggers:
- Conflict: problems with family members, friends or teachers
- School: stress over workload, homework, exams, problems with other students, etc.
- Problems with sexuality changes: the adjustment of physiological changes happening to the human body during the teenage years
Varying conditions will contribute to an adjustment disorder, and there is no way to know in advance who will start developing one from a given situation. However, a few factors to consider are how a person was taught to handle stress or social skills leading up to an event.
Symptoms of Adjustment Disorder
Any of the following symptoms associated with adjustment disorders might become more severe over time and will eventually interfere with professional or social activities. People who are familiar with a person or know their individual personality traits are often best qualified to recognize these symptoms quickly.
- Impulse behavior, unusual defiance or acting out
- Feelings that range from sadness to hopelessness, crying and withdrawal
- Nervousness, tension or other actions that display anxiety
- Physical ailments, complaining of an abnormal heartbeat or other abnormalities
- Twitching, shivering, trembling, or uncontrollable muscle movements
Criteria for Adjustment Disorder
In order to officially be diagnosed with an adjustment disorder, these four criteria have to be met and then reported to a health professional:
- Symptoms are observed or experienced within approximately three months after an event that is categorized as a stressor
- One or all of the symptoms are unusually severe in length or intensity
- Symptoms do not indicate the normal reaction or grieving after a tragedy or catastrophic event
- No other disorders are reported or associated with the symptoms
An adjustment disorder might also bring about symptoms that are severe enough to instigate thoughts of suicide or a suicidal attempt, so it is vital for anyone who experiences the symptoms to seek help from a qualified specialist right away.
Facts About Adjustment Disorders
Research shows that adjustment disorders are equally prevalent in both males and females, but adult women are diagnosed twice as much as men, which could be for any number of reasons. Women might be more inclined to look for answers, consult with a physician or seek help, and that could explain the increased number of diagnoses they receive.
Hospitalization plays a role in the percentages of adjustment disorder as well. Studies reveal anywhere from 2 to 8 percent of adults or children have reported an adjustment disorder, but in those who are hospitalized, that number goes up to 12 percent respectively.
Topics of Interest:
Treatment of Adjustment Disorder
A comprehensive approach works quite well when treating an adjustment disorder because the condition has numerous variables that often need to be addressed simultaneously in a healthy setting. One of the most popular forms of treatment is talk therapy, where a therapist will discuss the effects of the disorder, help the patient identify it, and finally change the way the patient reacts to the stressors causing it. Prescription medication is only used in conjunction with talk therapy and for relieving anxiety or nervousness, a lack of sleep or insomnia, or depression that has reached a very serious level.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is also utilized as an adjustment disorder treatment and a patient’s therapy will guide them to realize the negative thoughts and feelings that are happening. Establishing the source of the negativity is the first part of the therapy, and then followed by learning how to replace it with positive thoughts and responses. Generally, treatment can last for up to a half a year or more, and in some cases, it is necessary to have an expansion of therapy to include family members and self-help groups that will encourage a patient’s recovery in a more effective way.
Adjustment disorders might require supplementary options for treatment, especially if the patient also faces an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. At Foundations Recovery Network, we are uniquely qualified to provide the care and exclusive treatment programs that give patients hope as they return to a balanced life. Recovery starts when people reach out, so if you or someone you know has an adjustment disorder, eating problems or drug abuse symptoms, now is the time to contact us.
David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.
Reviewed by: Kim Chin and Marian Newton