Significant or major life events often require robust coping strategies and problem-solving skills. Feelings of stress or sadness are common for anyone adjusting to new circumstances. In some cases, however, an event may exceed a person’s ability to cope and can cause feelings of despair, helplessness or withdrawal from interests or hobbies. This experience is known as an adjustment disorder (AD).
Also referred to as “situational depression,” AD is a short-term, stress-related condition where an individual has difficulty coping with a considerable change in circumstances or life events. Although brief, AD facts show that this period can be distressing and have a significant impact on well-being.
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Prevalence of Adjustment Disorders
Adjustment disorder statistics show that prevalence rates fall between 11–18% of those who attend primary care and may be higher or underdiagnosed in some groups. The onset of AD is typically linked to stressful events, such as:
- The death of a loved one
- Health problems either in oneself or a loved one
- Financial concerns
Although life changes are common to just about everyone, those affected by adjustment disorders react to these changes in a way that would be considered abnormal. AD may be more prevalent in some individuals, including those with a severe illness or a mental health condition. Due to its often short-term nature, adjustment disorders may be under-reported in the general population.
Adjustment Disorders and Related Conditions
Stress and adjustment disorders are closely linked. Feeling unable to cope with stressful circumstances can lead to feelings of helplessness and desperation. These symptoms are similar to those characteristic of anxiety or depression. Although adjustment disorder shares many symptoms with these conditions, it does not meet the duration or symptomatic criteria for a clinical diagnosis of either condition.
People with adjustment disorders may turn to substance use as a way of seeking relief from their symptoms, which can lead to a substance use disorder. People suffering from a serious illness, such as cancer patients, may also be at increased risk for adjustment disorder as they work to cope with the new reality of their health condition. The co-occurrence of adjustment disorders and other mental or physical health conditions can make dealing with the symptoms of AD even more difficult.
Adjustment Disorders and Suicide
Adjustment disorders and suicidal ideation are often linked. Research shows that as high as a quarter of patients with AD may attempt suicide. Identification of symptoms, such as sadness, lethargy, withdrawal or disinterest can be extremely helpful in preventing suicide and directing individuals with AD to medical or psychiatric treatment.
Adjustment Disorder Prognosis
Although the length of adjustment disorder can vary, AD typically begins within three months of a stressor or major event and usually does not last longer than six months after the stressor is gone. The prognosis for adjustment disorder is often positive following correct identification of AD and establishing a strategy to manage the stressor or reactions to the stressor. In circumstances where a stressor is ongoing, a person can experience recurrent episodes of AD that may require ongoing support.
Statistics on Treatment for Adjustment Disorders
Although transient, adjustment disorders can be intense and extremely disruptive to a person’s daily life, including sleep, work and personal relationships. Treatments for AD can include a variety of strategies, depending on the severity and type of stressor. Treatment options may include:
- Alternative stress management strategies, such as yoga or meditation
- Strategies to reduce or remove the stressor
- Behavioral techniques to manage stress
Some treatments for adjustment disorders may also help prevent recurrence of adjustment disorders in the future. Although stress is an unavoidable part of life, there are resources and treatment options available for those who experience extreme difficulty or distress in coping with major events. Seeking treatment or support can help individuals to work through a difficult period and allow them to manage the changes that life may bring.
If you have a substance use problem that co-occurs with a mental health condition, like adjustment disorder, contact The Recovery Village today. Representatives are available to discuss treatment options.
Casey, P. “Adjustment Disorder: New Developments.” Curr Psychiatry Rep, 2014. Accessed April 20, 2019. MedLine Plus. “Adjustment Disorder.” April 1st, 2019. Accessed April 20, 2019. Mitchell, A. J., et al. “Prevalence of depression, anxiety, and adjustment disorder in oncological, haematological, and palliative-care settings: a meta-analysis of 94 interview-based studies.” The Lancet Oncology, 2011. Accessed April 20, 2019.
Casey, P. “Adjustment Disorder: New Developments.” Curr Psychiatry Rep, 2014. Accessed April 20, 2019.
MedLine Plus. “Adjustment Disorder.” April 1st, 2019. Accessed April 20, 2019.
Mitchell, A. J., et al. “Prevalence of depression, anxiety, and adjustment disorder in oncological, haematological, and palliative-care settings: a meta-analysis of 94 interview-based studies.” The Lancet Oncology, 2011. Accessed April 20, 2019.
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