Adjustment Disorder and Addiction

Adjustment Disorder and Addiction

Adjustment disorder is a mental health illness that results from unhealthy responses to a stressful or psychologically distressing life event. Individuals with adjustment disorder have a difficult time coping with or adapting to the reality of change, trauma or stress.

This inability to adjust can lead to serious emotional or behavioral developments. While adjustment disorders are caused by external stressors, an individual’s interpersonal perceptions, beliefs, fears and expectations can influence the disorder or control how the individual adapts to the external situation.

What Causes Adjustment Disorder?

Adjustment disorder can be caused by a single or re-occurring event. Common life changes that may initiate adjustment disorder include the following:

  • Losing or changing jobs
  • Retirement
  • Break-up, divorce, separation or other relationship changes
  • An accident, injury or illness
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Giving birth
  • Moving

What Is the Link between Adjustment Disorder and Addiction?

Adjustment disorder can exist in six forms. Each form has its own specific characteristics or symptoms, but almost all types include the symptoms of depression, anxiety or emotional dysregulation. Adjustment disorder causes extreme feelings of the following:

  • Hopelessness
  • Sadness
  • Apprehension
  • Nervousness or worry
  • Mixed or conflicting emotions
  • Overwhelmed
  • Guilt
  • Suicide

These symptoms are intense and constantly weigh on or exhaust the individual. Over time the symptoms of adjustment disorder lead to destructive or uncharacteristic behavior including the following:

  • Acting out through breaking the rules, aggressive outbursts, fighting or neglecting responsibilities at home work or school
  • Behaving recklessly including sexual promiscuity, reckless driving or substance abuse
  • Social isolation involving withdrawing from friends, family, interests and activities

These behaviors that result from adjustment disorder are self-destructive. Individuals may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with overwhelming emotions or feelings of being no longer in control of thoughts or actions. Mental health issues are commonly linked with substance abuse and addiction, because people are searching for quick fixes. Drugs and alcohol can temporarily help people escape, forget or become numb. The heavy reliance on drugs can easily develop into both a physical and psychological addiction.

Treatment Options for Adjustment Disorder and Addiction

When a mental health illness and addiction occur simultaneously, they are referred to as a Dual Diagnosis or as co-occurring disorders. Treating adjustment disorder and addiction is complex and requires specialized forms of therapy. Simply diagnosing co-occurring adjustment disorder and addiction issues is difficult, as adjustment disorder can be accompanied by or be confused with other concerns such as depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and more. Individual recovery plans will vary depending on the exact situation.

Integrated treatment is typically the most effective way to handle Dual Diagnosis issues. Individuals will be treated for all co-occurring disorders, because each disorder encourages the other. There are many options when it comes to integrated treatment. Individuals can receive psychotherapy, medication, alternative therapies, support groups, detox and specialized treatment for specific illnesses, injuries or other underlying issues that may result from or contribute to addiction and adjustment disorder.