Adjustment Disorder with Disturbance of Conduct
Adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct is usually the diagnosis for children and adolescents who experience temporary symptoms directly related to a stressful life event. Adults may experience this condition as well, but generally will be more apt to feel emotional disturbances, leading to a different characterization of adjustment disorder. When children haven't learned how to express their feelings properly, behavioral changes may replace symptoms of depression or anxiety. These negative behaviors are in direct response to a situation of change or loss, but more severe than could be considered normal.
Symptoms of Adjustment Disorder with Disturbance of Conduct
Adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct usually stems from a significant change in the course of family life. This may include the loss of a parent due to death or divorce, a move to a different state or neighborhood, or any life-changing event which may cause stress. Some children may be more resilient and will be able to bounce back from the event to regain a sense of normalcy. Those who are affected by this disorder may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Severe distress in direct relation to a stressful life event
- Negative impact on behavioral patterns at home or at school
- Loss of interest in activities the patient once enjoyed
- Acting out in the community, such as experiencing sudden problems with the law or skipping school
- Acting out at home, such as fighting, lying or preferring to be alone
Causes of Adjustment Disorder with Disturbance of Conduct
The exact cause of adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct is still unknown. Research studies have concluded that this excessive reaction to stress may result from a combination of factors. A chemical imbalance in the brain may be caused by poor diet, lack of essential nutrients or mild brain damage, and can lead to negative behavior during an adjustment period. Additionally, susceptibility to mental disorder can run in the family. This can be caused either genetically or by learning different types of behavioral traits.
Diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder with Disturbance of Conduct
If symptoms of adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct are present, a trained medical physician should first perform a physical examination to rule out any physical causes for behavioral misconduct. Depending upon the results, an evaluation may then be performed by a psychiatrist or psychologist to determine whether or not symptoms point to this disorder. This assessment may include questions about the event and other exercises for the purpose of observing behavioral responses. If the patient is a child, parents may be asked to participate and provide further evidence for diagnosis. If no other symptoms of mental illness are present and symptoms have not persisted longer than a period of 6 months, a diagnosis of adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct may be made.
Treating Adjustment Disorder with Disturbance of Conduct
Adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct is not usually treated with prescription medications, especially when the patient is a child or adolescent. This is partially due to the temporary nature of the disorder and to avoid any potential side effects. Different types of therapy can bring positive results and are readily available in many forms. One-on-one psychotherapy may be helpful for continued assessment of symptoms and to provide the patient with a confidential opportunity to express true feelings. If the patient is under age 18, family therapy may also be of significant benefit. Parents will be provided with tools to assist in coping with the child's behavior, exercises to help lessen symptoms and advice on ways to promote positive experiences and reward good behavior.