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Recognizing and surviving an adjustment disorder

Posted on 05-09-15 in Behavioral Health, Mental Health

Recognizing and surviving an adjustment disorder

Stress is part of everyday life. When a particularly stressful event rears its ugly head – such as losing a job or being diagnosed with cancer – most people suffer, struggle and then gradually adapt to the situation. Some people, however, experience harmful symptoms that last far longer than they should.

What is an adjustment disorder?

An adjustment disorder, also known as situational depression or stress response syndrome, is a collection of symptoms that are caused by experiencing a stressful event.

Some events that might cause an adjustment disorder include:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Loss of a job
  • Relocation
  • Being diagnosed with a serious illness
  • Divorce or marital conflict
  • Financial troubles

Adjustment disorders are distinct from post-traumatic stress disorder in that they are usually short-term – typical disease duration is less than six months – and are not necessarily caused by a life-threatening event. Any stressor has the potential to trigger the onset of an adjustment disorder.

Symptoms of adjustment disorder

For the most part, adjustment disorders resemble clinical depression. Patients experience low mood, hopelessness and increased anxiety, all of which interfere with daily life. Unlike depression, people with an adjustment disorder are less likely to experience changes in appetite and energy levels.

Symptoms vary from person to person but often include:

  • Crying spells
  • Anhedonia, or inability to feel pleasure
  • Loss of interest in once enjoyable activities
  • Anxiety
  • Hopelessness
  • Social isolation
  • Aches and pains
  • Thoughts of suicide

Most people become upset when faced with a particularly stressful situation. They might lose sleep, suffer from crying spells or retreat from social activities. People with an adjustment disorder, however, often experience symptoms that are significantly worse than those experienced by the general population.

How adjustment disorders are diagnosed

The criteria for being diagnosed with adjustment disorder are:

  • Symptoms that emerge within three months after a stressful event.
  • Presence of at least one symptom that is unusually severe in length or intensity.
  • Symptoms that are not within the bounds of a typical response to the stressful event.
  • No other mental disorders are present.

Before making a formal diagnosis, doctors might also acquire blood and urine samples to rule out other diseases that could be causing the symptoms. They might also examine the patient’s brain for head trauma. Clinicians will also examine the symptom profile to make sure the patient does not have generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or any other mental disorder that affects mood.

Adjustment disorder treatment and prognosis

People with an adjustment disorder are usually given talk therapy. In talk therapy, the clinician discusses the patient’s problems and provides coping strategies. In particularly severe cases, doctors might also prescribe antidepressants or sleep aids.

Most people with an adjustment disorder recover within six months or less. Despite the short duration of the illness, adjustment disorders are serious and could increase the risk of suicide. Treatment should be sought immediately.

Adjustment disorder complications

It is not unusual for people with adjustment disorders to develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol that persists even after the initial symptoms have disappeared. People with adjustment disorders are also at risk of developing major depression or another chronic mental illness.

Sovereign Health Group recognizes that mental health issues can fuel drug and alcohol abuse and vice-versa. This is why Sovereign is one of the leaders in dual diagnosis, or treating patients who suffer from both drug addiction and mental illness. For further questions on how Sovereign simultaneously treats illnesses such as adjustment disorders and addiction, please contact 866-530-4614.

Written by Courtney Lopresti, Sovereign Health Group writer