At one point in life, nearly all people will go through major stressful events that cause feelings of sadness and require adjusting to new circumstances. Sometimes, the event may be so extreme beyond what you can manage that you begin to feel helpless. As a result, you can develop adjustment disorder, a stress-related condition that arises when someone faces difficulty coping with a stressful life event.
This condition develops suddenly, and the affected people may begin to show some self-destructive behaviors. It’s a very common condition diagnosed in around 36% of outpatients in psychiatric settings. Luckily, with the right intervention, the affected people can get help and recover.
Types of Adjustment Disorders
As outlined by the World Health Organization, there are various types of adjustment disorders with different symptoms. An adjustment disorder with anxiety makes the affected person feel very worried and overwhelmed. This type of condition usually affects children when separated from their parents or loved ones.
For an adjustment disorder with depressed mood, those diagnosed feel very sad and hopeless. They might cry a lot, and they no longer enjoy activities that they previously did. Adjustment disorder with anxiety and depressed mood causes both depression and anxiety symptoms.
Other people might experience adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct. This condition affects a person’s behaviors, and they can start engaging in unnecessary fights or driving recklessly. Teenagers suffering from this condition might even start stealing items, missing school or vandalizing property.
Those who suffer from adjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct experience anxiety, depression and behavioral issues. If you display symptoms not associated with any adjustment disorder, your condition falls in the unspecified category.
Causes of Adjustment Disorder
Adjustment disorder occurs as a reaction to certain events. There is, therefore, no specific cause of the condition, but there are various factors that trigger it. The condition affects people of all ages, but children and adolescents have higher susceptibility.
The disorder’s severity varies based on your ability to cope with situations, your genetics, your life experiences and your temperament. If you fail to resolve the issue, it could cause depression, other mental illnesses or substance abuse. Co-occurrence of other psychological issues with adjustment disorder makes it challenging to treat the condition. Common causes include the following.
People going through a divorce, marital problems or other interrelationship issues are at a higher risk of suffering from adjustment disorders. You can also develop the condition if you lose a job, family member, partner or friend. Those with ongoing stressors, such as people living with certain health issues, are at risk. Adjustment disorder has a 6% to 19% prevalence rate among cancer patients.
Those living in a crime-ridden neighborhood are at a higher risk, too. The condition may affect you if you face problems at work, school or significant changes like retiring, having a newborn or going away for school. Sudden disasters and financial issues can also cause adjustment disorders.
People who went through significant stress during childhood, like abuse, are at a higher risk of developing adjustment disorder. It also affects those who have other underlying mental conditions. The risk is higher if you are going through several difficult life circumstances simultaneously. The condition also affects people working in very stressful environments. For adolescents, the issue can develop due to anxiety over sexuality. It can also occur in youth when they witness family fights or face school problems.
Symptoms of Adjustment Disorders
When you or your loved ones suffer from adjustment disorders, you could begin to experience the symptoms within three months after the stressful events happen. They typically resolve within six months of when the stressor stops. Age can affect the nature of symptoms. For instance, adjustment disorder causes more behavioral reactions in adolescents while adults will exhibit more depressive symptoms. However, each person in a specific group will experience unique symptoms based on their condition.
Some psychological symptoms of this disorder include:
- Depressed mood
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Loss of pleasure in regular activities
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Change in eating habits
- Loss of self-esteem
- Elevated heart rate
Adjustment disorder also causes some behavioral changes, which can include:
- Withdrawal from social support
- Poor performance at work or school
- Increased aggression
- Absence from school or work
- Violation of societal norms and rules
- Avoiding responsibilities like paying bills
- Impulsive actions
Your children might be suffering from adjustment disorder if they exhibit the following symptoms:
- Frequent crying episodes
- Temper outbursts
- Difficulty sleeping
- Withdrawal from friends and family
When to See a Doctor
Usually, stressors are temporary, and many people can overcome them with time. However, the stressful event may become a part of your life for an extended period. Other times, another problematic issue may come up before you heal from your previous one, which can cause worse adjustment disorder symptoms. In such a case, you need professional help. Talk to your doctor if you experience difficulties handling your daily activities.
It’s not uncommon for people going through depressive situations to turn to drugs to seek relief. This can cause substance use disorder. If you begin to notice dependence on drugs or alcohol, see a doctor for help. Adjustment disorder can also cause suicidal thoughts and actions. Studies show that 25% of adolescents and 60% of adults with adjustment disorders attempt suicide. If you or your loved ones begin to show symptoms like withdrawal, disinterest, lethargy and prolonged periods of sadness, it’s time to seek help. Such symptoms can trigger suicidal thoughts or attempts.
Diagnosing the Condition
Adjustment disorder diagnosis involves clinical interviews and examinations. The doctor will ask you about any mental health histories, life events, emotions and behaviors that developed due to stress. You can undergo physical examinations to determine if you have any underlying illnesses that could change your mood or behaviors.
The doctor must confirm that the behavioral or emotional symptoms occurred within three months after an identifiable stressor happened to be diagnosed with adjustment disorder. The doctor will also want to determine whether you are having difficulties in your personal life, either at work or school. You could be suffering from the disorder if you show intense levels of distress beyond what a specific event calls for.
The medical practitioner will confirm that the symptoms aren’t a result of any other illnesses or mental disorders. When diagnosed, your doctor can refer you to a facility like Granite Recovery Centers for counseling and treatment.
Adjustment Disorder Treatment
Some people with adjustment disorder require only short-term treatment while others benefit from long-term care. The type of treatment considered will vary based on the type of adjustment disorder and preferences. It also differs due to the extent of the symptoms, your tolerance levels for therapies, your age and your medical history. Treatment may include medication and therapy.
People overwhelmed by stress also need practical help to overcome the situation and develop better coping strategies. When you seek assistance from Granite Recovery Centers, you will benefit from therapeutic interventions to help you return to a normal functioning level. At the facility, you will start by undergoing a dual diagnosis to determine if you have other mental issues besides the adjustment disorder. This program will address each issue separately to prevent the re-occurrence of the condition.
In case you tried self-medication by turning to alcohol and drugs, this program will also help address addiction issues. You might have to undergo medical detoxification before proceeding with therapy. Note that you might fail to respond to treatment efficiently until you cleanse your body from any substances and toxins. After detox, your doctor will advise you to consider one or more of the therapy programs below. Granite Recovery Centers provides medical detoxification for people who do not need immediate medical intervention, are not a danger to themselves, and are capable of self-evacuation in the event of an emergency.
Inpatient Treatment Program
If your condition is severe to the extent that you need constant monitoring and support, you should opt for an inpatient treatment program. With this type of treatment, you reside within the rehab facility until your condition stabilizes. This option best suits those who develop suicidal thoughts or become highly aggressive due to adjustment disorder.
At Granite Recovery Centers, you will benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy. You will hold conversations with your therapist to help them identify how your condition affects your emotions and behaviors. The doctor will then help you better understand your condition, and through counseling and support, you will develop better management skills. The therapy also addresses other symptoms, so you will learn how to manage anger, better solve problems and control impulses.
During treatment, you may also undergo dialectical behavior therapy. This mainly benefits those whose condition arose due to exposure to prolonged periods of stress. You will learn various skills, including how to build a solid defense against negative emotions, and communicate with others effectively.
If you develop an adjustment disorder due to losing a loved one, you will undergo grief and loss therapy. Your therapist will help you accept the reality of your loss, and you will work together to develop coping strategies for your grief. You will learn how to adjust to your life without the deceased. If you’re facing guilt due to something you did or didn’t do to the deceased, the counselor will guide you on how to move on. They will help you let go of the guilt to live a life that will honor the deceased.
Patients who have experienced traumatic events need trauma therapy. You will learn how to face your trauma and bypass some self-destructive behaviors that it can cause.
Outpatient Treatment Program
You can opt for the outpatient treatment program if your symptoms aren’t so intense. This option also works well for patients who have completed the inpatient treatment but still need professional counseling and support. For this option, you will visit a rehab facility several days a week, as agreed upon with your psychiatrist, and head home after the sessions.
The outpatient treatment offers you greater flexibility. You can go to work, perform daily activities or attend school while still working on your recovery. During the sessions, you have access to individual counseling. You will also participate in group therapy to share ideas with a group of people suffering from the same conditions as yours. The treatment program also entails skill-building sessions, holistic therapies and a 12-step rehab program for improved mental health.
Partial Hospitalization Program
People who have a great support system at home but still need intensive monitoring can consider partial hospitalization treatment. For this option, patients participate in scheduled treatment in a rehab facility five days a week and return home later after the session. You will benefit from group therapy headed by a trained psychiatrist or counselor. In case you have a personal issue that you don’t wish to share in a group setting, you can share them with your therapist through face-to-face counseling.
It’s worth noting that some adjustment disorder symptoms may also affect your family members and others around you. During the partial hospitalization treatment program, you will engage in family therapy to help your loved ones cope with your situation. You will practice specific skills needed within a family system, such as communication. Your family members will also learn how to offer you the necessary support to aid in recovery. In case you are taking medicine to relieve the condition’s symptoms, you will learn about medical management to prevent abuse or addiction.
Developing a network with supportive people, looking for the positive in a challenging situation and leading a healthy life can help you better manage stressful life events. However, if the situation is beyond you, it’s a good idea that you seek professional help.
If you discover the signs of the condition early enough and seek immediate assistance for people with adjustment disorders, you can reduce the symptoms’ severity. With the proper treatment and therapy from a rehab facility like Granite Recovery Centers, you can overcome adjustment disorder. However, you need to be very consistent with therapy and take medications as prescribed.