The 4 Surprising Differences Between Adjustment Disorder vs PTSD

adjustment disorder vs ptsd

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Adjustment disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are two mental health conditions that can have a significant impact on your daily life. Both conditions involve a change in behavior or mood as a response to a stressful event. Understanding how to tell them apart by their distinct differences is crucial when choosing the right plan to manage your symptoms.

In this article, we will dive deeper into the characteristics, causes, and symptom management options of adjustment disorder vs PTSD to help you better understand these conditions.

What is Adjustment Disorder?

Adjustment disorder is a condition that occurs when you have difficulty coping with a stressful life event. This can include significant life changes such as divorce, moving to a new location, or losing a job. The symptoms of adjustment disorder typically develop within three months of the stressful event. They can last for up to six months.

Some common symptoms of adjustment disorder include:

      • Feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope with daily tasks

      • Experiencing anxiety, worry, or fear

      • Changes in appetite or sleeping patterns

      • Low mood, sadness, or hopelessness

      • Difficulty concentrating

    It is important to note that these symptoms are a normal response to stress and do not necessarily indicate an adjustment disorder. If your symptoms persist for more than six months or significantly interfere with your daily life, it may be a sign of adjustment disorder.

    What is PTSD?

    Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that can develop after you experience or witness a traumatic event. This can include physical or sexual assault, natural disasters, or combat in war. PTSD symptoms may not present immediately after the event and can last for months or even years.

    Some common symptoms of PTSD include:

        • Flashbacks or nightmares related to the traumatic event

        • Avoiding activities or places that remind you of the event

        • Adverse changes in thoughts and mood, such as guilt, shame, or detachment

        • Hyperarousal, including difficulty sleeping and being easily startled

      Like adjustment disorder, these symptoms are a normal response to trauma. If your symptoms persist for more than four weeks and significantly interfere with your daily life, it may be a sign of PTSD.

      Adjustment Disorder vs PTSD: What are the Differences?

      There are several key differences in symptoms when distinguishing between adjustment disorder and PTSD. Knowing how these conditions differ is essential when understanding your symptoms.

       Symptom differences of Adjustment Disorder vs. PTSD: 

          • Timeframe: As mentioned, adjustment disorder symptoms typically last up to six months. PTSD symptoms can persist for months or even years.

          • Triggering Event: Adjustment disorder is triggered by a specific stressful event. PTSD is often associated with a traumatic event.

          • Intensity: PTSD symptoms tend to be more intense and may significantly impair your daily functioning compared to adjustment disorder symptoms.

          • Onset: Adjustment disorder symptoms typically appear within three months of the triggering event. PTSD symptoms may not present immediately after the traumatic event.

        What are the Causes?

        The exact cause of both adjustment disorder and PTSD is not fully understood. Some potential factors that may contribute to the development of these conditions include:

            • Biological predisposition: You may have a genetic vulnerability to develop adjustment disorder or PTSD.

            • Environmental factors: A traumatic event, significant life changes, or ongoing stress can trigger both disorders.

            • Coping mechanisms: If you lack healthy coping strategies, you may be more likely to develop adjustment disorder or PTSD after a stressful event.

          Symptom Management Options

          Symptom management options for adjustment disorder and PTSD both necessitate seeking professional help because the causes of either condition can be complex and challenging to tackle on your own. 

          Here are some standard symptom management options for Adjustment Disorder and PTSD:

              • Medication: In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help manage symptoms of adjustment disorder or PTSD. Your counselor will help determine if medication will help in combination with therapy to ease your symptoms further than therapy alone.

              • Support groups: Support groups can provide a safe space to share your experiences and receive support from others with similar struggles. Experiencing trauma or a stressful event can lead to isolation. Connecting with others who may understand your struggle can be encouraging and help you not feel alone while you process your experiences.

            It is important to note that treatment plans may vary depending on the severity of the condition and your specific needs. Speak to your counselor about options that may be helpful for you.

            How to Seek Help

            If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of adjustment disorder or PTSD, it is essential to seek help from a mental health professional to receive an accurate diagnosis. With a proper diagnosis, you will receive a personalized and targeted symptom management plan geared toward your unique experiences and struggles, as well as the support of your counselor throughout the entire process.

            You can also reach out to support hotlines such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) if you feel unsafe or feel you are in an emotional emergency. Call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number immediately for help if you are in a physical crisis.


            Adjustment disorder and PTSD share some similar symptoms, as well as some key differences that make it easier to tell them apart. It is important to understand these differences to identify and seek help for either disorder properly. Experiencing some symptoms associated with either condition can be a normal stress response. Depending on how long you are experiencing symptoms is a crucial indicator of when professional counseling is necessary.

            Seeking professional help is the first step towards an accurate diagnosis, a personalized plan for managing symptoms, and finding relief from these challenging conditions. Overall, it is crucial to prioritize your mental health, as these types of conditions can significantly affect other areas of life over time. If you have experienced a stressful or traumatic event, you do not need to go through the aftermath alone.

            If you are ready to find relief from your adjustment disorder or PTSD symptoms, call us at (833)-274-heal or schedule an appointment with a counselor who understands your stress. 

            More On This Topic:

            Understanding Acute Stress Disorder: A Guide To Coping And Resilience

            CPTSD Vs BPD: Learn The 5 Key Differences To Unlock The Right Treatment Plan For You

            Eustress Vs Distress: The Difference Between Good And Bad Stress

            Picture of Sara Makin MSEd, LPC, NCC

            Sara Makin MSEd, LPC, NCC

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