Adjustment disorders cause people to react to stressors more strongly and negatively than normal. Fortunately, treatment options are available for these conditions.
An adjustment disorder can make even ordinary daily routines difficult to handle. Unexpected stressors or specific triggers can cause intense emotional reactions. Rather than being able to handle stress in a positive or healthy way, people with this mental health condition instead may feel overwhelmed and act impulsively when confronted with acute stress.
Successful management of an adjustment disorder requires a personalized treatment plan. Because adjustment disorders often co-occur with other psychological conditions, every case is unique. Other mental illnesses, medical diseases or substance use disorders must also be addressed for treatment to be effective. To that end, there are a variety of treatment options available for adjustment disorders.
The main course of treatment for adjustment disorders is psychotherapy, sometimes called talk therapy. During therapy sessions, patients learn to manage stress through healthy coping strategies, emotional processing skills and stress-reduction techniques. One of the most commonly used forms of psychotherapy for adjustment disorders is cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Through cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), patients learn how to recognize their thoughts, reactions and behavior patterns and manage them effectively. In cases of adjustment disorders, patients are taught new ways of responding to stressful situations that may otherwise cause extreme anxiety.
One specific subtype of CBT is dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). In this type of therapy, patients learn skills to self-regulate their emotions and foster positive interpersonal relationships during stressful periods. These coping skills can help people avoid self-judgment, which can worsen emotional responses.
Practicing mindfulness skills can empower people with adjustment disorders to recognize and respond to reactions they have in stressful situations. Becoming more aware of stress as it arises can make it easier to understand the source of their feelings and control how they react to stressors. Mindfulness practice sometimes involves meditation exercises. These skills can either learned in individual or group-based therapy settings, often with equal success.
Family therapy allows family members of the patient to learn useful skills, such as providing constructive support to the patient during times of stress and helping them learn how to cope with their stressors. It can also allow family members to better understand what their loved one is going through, what to expect during their recovery process and what family dynamics help or harm them.
Group therapy usually teaches similar skills learned in individual sessions of psychotherapy. In group therapy, however, patients can share ideas and witness others’ recovery processes. This setting can enhance skill-learning and motivation to stick with a treatment plan.
Certain medications manage specific symptoms of adjustment disorders. The type of medicine prescribed depends on how an individual patient’s disorder manifests. Currently, anti-anxiety medication and antidepressants are the two most common medications prescribed for adjustment disorders.
- Anti-Anxiety Medications. Anxiety is extremely common among people with adjustment disorders and is one of the most common symptoms of these conditions. Anti-anxiety medications, like benzodiazepines, can help reduce anxiety levels and allow people to control irrational stress. However, these medications can also be addictive and, therefore, are not recommended in cases with co-occurring substance use disorders.
- Antidepressants. Antidepressant medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) enhance cognitive activity in the central nervous system. Aside from treating depression, they can also be used to manage various other mood disorders. Antidepressants can be helpful for adjustment disorders, especially when depression is a symptom. In fact, one clinical study found that people with adjustment disorders are twice as likely to respond to antidepressants as people with major depressive disorder.
Like group-based therapy, support groups provide a place for people with adjustment disorders to openly discuss their experiences. They can be excellent venues for sharing advice, learning about treatment options and creating a supportive social network. Many support groups exist for specific causes of adjustment disorders, such as bereavement, illness and major life changes. Medical clinics and counselor’s offices can be good places to learn more about local support groups.
Treating Adjustment Disorders and Co-Occurring Conditions
As with many other mental illnesses, adjustment disorders often are linked to substance abuse. People with an adjustment disorder may turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the anxiety and depression that comes with their disorder, even though substance use will make their condition worse in the long run.
Managing both an adjustment disorder and a substance use disorder requires a personalized treatment plan. Medical care must be given to address any substance dependencies, while psychological care for the adjustment disorder is needed to avoid turning back to drugs for the same reasons.
If you or a loved one are struggling with an adjustment disorder along with substance abuse, specialized care is available. Contact The Recovery Village today to learn how we can help you.
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Sundquist J, Palmér K, Johansson LM, Sundquist K. “The effect of mindfulness group therapy […] primary health care.” European Psychiatry, June 2017. Accessed May 11, 2019.
Casey P, Bailey S. “Adjustment disorders: State of the art.” World Psychiatry, February 2011. Accessed May 11, 2019.
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.