Adjustment Disorder

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

Condition updated on September 20th, 2021

Adjustment Disorder

An adjustment disorder (AD) is a condition in which a person experiences stress after a major change. The stress is typically caused by a change in lifestyle. The change may be anticipated or unanticipated.

This disorder will cause a person to have emotional and behavioral reactions. These reactions are due to the stress of adjusting to new life circumstances.

Adjustment disorder can affect children, adolescents, and adults. It is most often seen in children and adolescents. This disorder will typically manifest in the affected person’s behavior within 3 to 4 months of experiencing the change.

The behavioral change is due to the stress that comes with the change. It causes an emotional reaction from feeling the loss of previous circumstances.

Symptoms Of Adjustment Disorder

Adjustment disorder comes with symptoms that are similar to anxiety and depression. Struggling to adjust to changes can cause both anxiety and a depressed mood. Because of this, people with AD will suffer from similar symptoms.

Emotional and mental symptoms that a person with AD may experience include:

  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Feelings of sadness or numbness
  • Negative self-talk
  • Distress or struggle with making decisions
  • Despondence
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Exhaustion
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Loss of self-confidence
  • Change in self-esteem
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Loss of motivation

Symptoms of adjustment disorder may also include behavioral changes. These changes may be temporary and are in reaction to struggling to cope with change.

Behavioral symptoms that may occur in a person with AD include:

  • Confrontational or argumentative behavior
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Crying spells
  • Avoiding talking to friends and family
  • A decline in work or school performance
  • Destructive or self-defeating behaviors
  • Changes in appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Substance abuse
  • Alcohol abuse

Causes Of Adjustment Disorder

Adjustment disorder is caused by a change to a person’s day-to-day lifestyle. People with an AD may or may not have a history of struggling to cope with change. The triggering change may be expected or unexpected. The change that occurs will significantly impact a person’s sense of security. The compromised sense of security is typically temporary.

Several different circumstances may cause a person to suffer from AD. People with a history of mental health disorders are at higher risk of struggling to adjust to changes in lifestyle. This is especially prevalent for people with anxiety and depression.

Situations that may cause a person to experience AD include:

  • A move to a new area
  • A sudden change in family dynamics
  • Divorce
  • The separation of a person’s parents
  • New siblings being born
  • Older siblings moving out of the childhood home
  • The loss of a friend or pet
  • Sudden or unexpected restrictions to mobility
  • Chronic illness
  • The death, abandonment, or disappearance of a loved one
  • Changes to lifestyle
  • Acts of terror
  • Natural disasters

Not everyone who experiences change will suffer from AD. Adjustment disorder is treatable, and often treatment is successful. Once a person has adjusted or come to terms with the change and challenges they face, they are often able to adapt. They then can resume normal day-to-day functioning.

Treatment Of Adjustment Disorder

Adjustment disorder can be treated with mental health counseling. Those who suffer from this disorder tend to be able to recover after seeking therapy. Different therapeutic approaches can help treat AD. Finding the right fit of therapist and therapeutic approach will depend on the client’s individual needs. It will also depend on the triggering event that caused the condition of AD.

There are different forms of therapy a mental health professional may use to treat AD. A therapist may use a combination of different therapeutic approaches to treat the client’s unique needs. A mental health professional will also take into account the types of symptoms the client has experienced when creating a treatment plan. They will focus on social, behavioral, and emotional challenges.

Solution-Focused Therapy

Solution-focused therapy is often used to help people with AD. Solution-focused therapy is a form of therapy that helps with decision-making skills. It helps to build confidence in the client to make decisions and trust their new circumstances. Solution-focused therapy can also be helpful with giving the client a space to brainstorm methods of adjusting to their new life circumstances.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be especially helpful for people who are suffering from anxiety that is resulting from AD. Clients may struggle to cope with stress when suffering from AD.

That struggle can cause people to feel anxious, and experience negative or unhealthy thoughts. CBT helps a person with AD learn how to challenge their anxious thoughts. This helps to reduce feelings of hopelessness and other kinds of self-defeating thought patterns.

Supportive Therapy

Supportive therapy can go a long way for people who are suffering from AD. Many people with AD are suffering from life changes that are out of their control. This can cause feelings of helplessness, which can lead to a depressed mood. Supportive therapy can help a person with AD recover by providing them with support and a safe space for healing. The healing process involves the process of coming to terms with new life circumstances.

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