To help someone with an adjustment disorder, you must first understand the condition, their point of view and then you can help them find healing.

Whenever a friend or family member is going through a difficult time, wanting to help is human nature. You naturally want to understand their situation and resolve all the problems for your loved one, so they would not have to carry the burden on their own.

With a condition like adjustment disorder, there is no way to swoop in and resolve their disorder. Although you cannot single-handedly fix the problem, you can do a lot to offer meaningful help and assistance to your friend in need.

Understanding Adjustment Disorder

Chances are good that you have never heard of an adjustment disorder until your loved one mentioned they received this diagnosis. Unlike conditions including bipolar disorderdepression or anxiety, the media rarely discusses adjustment disorders. This lack of information might seem like a negative, but it allows you the unique opportunity to gain an understanding of adjustment disorder directly from your loved one.

Your loved one can tell you what an adjustment disorder is, what it feels like, how it started and what can make it better. Mental health conditions like adjustment disorders can influence a person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors, so asking many questions and listening to their perspectives is a great way to understand the disorder and affirm the fact that you care and are interested in their well-being.

Keep in mind that you are still early in the helping process. This is not the time to begin suggesting interventions to improve their condition. Save the strategies for another time when you know more about and adjustment disorders overall. Too many unwanted suggestions may not be well-received.

Recognizing the Signs of an Adjustment Disorder

Adjustment disorder is a mental health condition with signs and symptoms established by the American Psychiatric Association. The central feature of adjustment disorder is a level of distress that is disproportionate to the situation, and the stress causes a significant negative impact on the person’s social health, employment status or educational state.

In an adjustment disorder, the individual experiences some sort of problem or unwanted situation, and their response to the situation is more intense than one would expect. For example, someone is passed over for a promotion at work, and their reaction is to experience feelings of anger, depression and hopelessness for three consecutive months.

Symptoms of adjustment disorder include:

  • Anxious or worried thoughts
  • Hopelessness
  • Depressed mood
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches or stomach aches
  • Trouble sleeping

In the world of mental health conditions, adjustment disorders are a bit odd due to the duration of symptoms. As the name implies, adjustment disorders are temporary conditions which begin from a specific trigger and resolve once enough time has passed.

The symptoms of an adjustment disorder must begin within three months after the negative life event, and they must end within six months after the stressor ends. If the symptoms continue beyond six months, they would likely require another diagnosis such as major depressive disorder or PTSD to explain their extended symptoms.

Types of Adjustment Disorders

Adjustment disorders are separated by the types of symptoms a person experiences. There are five main categories of adjustment disorders:

  • A depressed mood with symptoms of a low mood, tearfulness and hopelessness
  • Anxiety with symptoms of nervousness, worry and jitteriness
  • Mixed anxiety and depression with a combination of symptoms
  • Disturbance of personal conduct with an increase in reckless behavior
  • Mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct implying all symptoms are possible

Identifying the type of adjustment disorder your loved one has could be challenging, which is why learning about their point of view is so essential to helping them.

Where to Get Help for Adjustment Disorders

As mentioned, adjustment disorders are unhealthy reactions to life stressors, so it may seem like your loved one is overreacting to a problem. Be careful with this line of thinking, though. It might only make symptoms worse.

Adjustment disorder is a legitimate condition and requires professional mental health care to manage symptoms efficiently. Professional treatments for adjustment disorders include:

  • Interpersonal therapy – This type of therapy focuses on building communication skills to improve relationships. By developing relationships, the stress is minimized as positive social interactions increase.
  • Stress management – People with high stress levels are prone to adjustment disorders, so learning new ways to reduce their stress can limit the risk from adjustment disorders.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy – Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT is a helpful form of therapy for many conditions. For adjustment disorders, CBT will incorporate problem-solving skills, communication techniques and stress management skills to handle the effects of the stressors.

One treatment method that is not helpful for adjustment disorders is medication. Medication alone cannot teach the person how to cope with stress. In some situations of high anxiety or depression, medications may be used alongside psychotherapy, as part of an adjustment disorder treatment plan, to improve results.

If you or your loved one have a substance use disorder that co-occurs with adjustment disorder, contact the experts at The Recovery Village. You can address both disorders simultaneously through treatment. One call could drastically improve your life or the life of a loved one. Don’t hesitate, make the call today.

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Eric Patterson, LPC
Eric Patterson is a licensed professional counselor in the Pittsburgh area who is dedicated to helping children, adults, and families meet their treatment goals. Read more

American Psychiatric Association. “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition.” 2013. “For Friends and Family Members.” September 26, 2017. Accessed on February 11, 2019.

Virginia Commission on Youth. “Adjustment Disorder.” (2017) Accessed on February 12, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.