Tamar Rodney, PhD, PMHNP-BC: Differences Among Adjustment Disorder, Acute Stress Disorder, and PTSD

The main differences among adjustment disorder, acute stress disorder, and PTSD have to do with age and time.

Adjustment Disorder usually occurs in children who experience a change in routine and environment. Acute Stress Disorder has to do how quickly symptoms occur following a trauma while with PTSD, symptoms usually take three to six months to show up.

Tamar Rodney, PhD, PMHNP-BC, CNE is an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. Her research and clinical work focus primarily on improving PTSD diagnosis and treatment.

For information about treatments for PTSD please visit The Treatment Hub.

Adjustment disorder, acute stress disorder, and PTSD, there’s two things that make them very different and one is age and one is time.

So, I’ll take adjustment disorder first. Adjustment disorder is just having a difficult time adjusting to something that you are not primarily used to. But I will qualify this to say this usually happens with children and rarely ever seen with adults. And by children, I mean a child is not adjusting well to leaving home to go to school, and so we see behaviors that come out of this. So, I won’t say it’s never with adults, but it’s rarely with adults, and it’s something that we usually look for in children as not being adjusted to an environment or to change. Acute stress disorder is really to do with how quickly we see symptoms from a traumatic event, and it’s in the word acute.

Acute tells us that it’s really soon after something has happened. And for post-traumatic stress disorder, the qualifier is that yes, there is an event, but usually we recover, and that’s a good thing about trauma, that most persons who go through a traumatic event, you react and that is normal, but usually those symptoms go away.

With post-traumatic stress disorder, three months afterwards you start to see these negative symptoms: avoidance, intrusion, negatively reacting to individuals, or being what we call hyperarousal state, and those symptoms stay. And it’s those unique qualifiers that makes it different from acute to be posttraumatic stress disorder. So, think about them uniquely. One is adjusting. One is symptoms that are occurring acutely, which is right after. And the other one, the “post” really means that it takes a longer while for those symptoms to appear.

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Posted on BrainLine November 23, 2021. Reviewed November 23, 2021.