Adjustment disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may seem like similar disorders, but their unique characteristics differentiate them. With adjustment disorder, individuals are unable to adapt to major life changes. PTSD develops after a traumatic event and leads to prolonged feelings of intense fear.
It’s important to understand the difference between adjustment disorder vs PTSD and their impacts.
Adjustment disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have some similar characteristics, but each condition is distinct in its own way. It’s important to understand the differences between these disorders, including their symptoms, causes, and treatments, to ensure effective management of each condition.
Understanding Adjustment Disorder
Adjustment disorder is a stress-related condition that develops when a person is unable to adapt to major life changes. The individual may experience more stress than expected after a traumatic or unexpected event.
It’s common and natural to experience stress after suffering an illness, losing a job or the death of a loved one. However, people typically adjust and acclimate to these changes within a few months. Individuals with adjustment disorder, however, will continue to experience stress and emotional or behavioral symptoms for an extended period of time.
In other words, the individual struggles to adapt to these major life changes.
Symptoms of adjustment disorder include:
- Feeling depressed
- Trouble sleeping
- Loss of appetite
- Avoidance behaviors
- Social isolation
- Difficulty concentrating
- Suicidal ideation
Causes and triggers are significant life changes or life stressors, such as:
- Divorce or relationship issues
- Life-threatening experiences
- Loss of a job or financial issues
- Ongoing illness
- Difficulties at work or school
- Major changes in life situations, such as retirement or having a baby
Genetics and temperament can also play a role in the likelihood of developing this condition.
Adjustment disorder can make it difficult for an individual to carry out daily tasks or enjoy the things they once loved. Without treatment, individuals with this disorder are at a higher risk of developing depression, anxiety disorder or substance abuse disorder.
Understanding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
While adjustment disorder is more likely to develop after a stressful event, PTSD develops after a traumatic experience. If a person witnesses a frightening, shocking, or tragic incident, they may develop this disorder.
An estimated 70% of adults suffer at least one traumatic experience in their lifetime, and 20% of these individuals will develop PTSD as a result.
Individuals who develop PTSD are unable to recover after the traumatic incident and may continue to experience fear or tension even though they are no longer in danger.
Symptoms of PTSD can include:
- Intrusive memories. The individual may relive the traumatic event as if it were happening again.
- Avoidance behaviors. The person may avoid talking or thinking about the incident or avoid people or places that remind them of the event.
- Emotional and physical reactions. The individual may have trouble concentrating, difficulty sleeping, feel overwhelming shame or guilt, be irritable or engage in self-destructive behavior.
These symptoms, and others, can vary in intensity over time.
PTSD can have a profound impact on the individual’s life, making it difficult for them to carry out daily activities, work a normal job or relate to friends and family. They may isolate themselves or have difficulty maintaining relationships.
The Difference Between Adjustment Disorder and PTSD
Adjustment disorder and PTSD have key differences that allow them to be differentiated by a professional.
According to studies, the triggers of PTSD and adjustment disorder vary based on:
- PTSD is caused by a major traumatic event
- Adjustment disorder is caused by the end of a marriage or relationship, accident, illness, or other major life or environmental changes
Acute disturbances, as seen with adjustment disorder, last for a period of less than six months. PTSD is known to last for years or until someone seeks professional therapy to help them overcome the symptoms that they experience.
Adjustment disorder is known to be caused by a stressor that is less intense than that of PTSD. Sufferers of PTSD have very intense distress and may relive the event that occurred, leading to severe bouts of panic and anxiety.
While both conditions are serious and can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life, PTSD’s intensity and severity are considered to be stronger.
Trauma focus of PTSD is often well-known with a clear trigger. A person who watches a loved one die in an automobile accident may have trauma-related triggers when getting in the car or walking across the stress.
Adjustment disorder does not have a single traumatic event attached to it and is often related to an environmental change.
Determining whether a patient has adjustment disorder or PTSD is challenging due to the overlapping of symptoms the conditions share.
Adjustment Disorder vs PTSD: Overlapping Symptoms and Challenges in Diagnosis
Diagnosing PTSD vs adjustment disorder can be challenging because the overlapping symptoms are very similar. You can also suffer from adjustment disorders that have accompanying issues, such as:
- Disturbed conduct
Diagnosis of the two will require an in-depth examination. The therapist must spend time understanding what brought the symptoms about, when the symptoms started, and what the full range of symptoms may be.
Overlapping symptoms make diagnosis difficult and can include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Avoidance or withdrawal
- Feeling of hopelessness or being overwhelmed
- Emotional distress
Over time, these feelings can intensify and even cause a person to experience suicidal thoughts. Proper treatment and time can help sufferers overcome these challenges and return to a life of fulfillment and healing.
Can Adjustment Disorder Turn Into PTSD?
Adjustment disorder is a less intense response compared to PTSD. The literature does not supply enough evidence of the disorder turning into PTSD, but the maladaptive reaction can progress into:
- Anxiety disorder
Long-term adjustment disorders can increase the risk of substance abuse.
Adjustment disorder and PTSD are similar. Both conditions are the result of stress and trauma, but PTSD is caused by a single traumatic event versus a change in environment or a series of events.
Intensity and duration are the main differences between PTSD and adjustment disorder.If you’re not feeling like yourself or experiencing stress, anxiety, disassociation, re-experience of past events, or similar symptoms, you owe it to yourself to seek an accurate diagnosis. Professional help will allow you to pinpoint your disorder and work to overcome it. You deserve to live a life that is free from anxiety, stressors, or the feeling of hopelessness that both disorders are known to cause.