Signs, Symptoms & Effects of Adjustment Disorder

Understanding Adjustment Disorder

Learn More About Adjustment Disorder

Over the course of life, one can expect that a variety of stressful situations will occur. Major transitions including the death of a loved one, employment loss, or other large-scale changes will naturally result in one experiencing certain levels of distress from time to time. A stress response is a completely normal reaction to such experiences, and need not be viewed with acute concern. Each person deals with hardship in his or her own way, and over time, as one practices healthy coping mechanisms and self-care, one can expect the feelings of distress to dissipate.

But sometimes, these types of events will illicit the onset of feelings of distress that do not resolve within a typical interval of time. When one continues to experience feelings of acute levels of stress long after the activating event has passed, it may be a sign that a mental health condition, known as adjustment disorder, has set in, and professional help will be needed to overcome symptoms that can impede functioning in many aspects of an individual’s life.

Adjustment disorder in not a lifelong impairment because, unlike other mental health conditions, adjustment disorder will usually resolve in approximately three months’ time. But if the distress-prompting event or circumstances continue, so too will symptoms of the condition. When this occurs, one will need comprehensive mental health treatment in order to learn to navigate one’s symptoms, and regain control of his or her emotional wellbeing.


Statistics of Adjustment Disorder

While it might be a lesser-known disorder than other mood impairments like anxiety or depression, adjustment disorder is an incredibly common experience. Vast numbers of men, women, and young people are suffering from adjustment disorder across the United States, in spite of the fact that few people are aware of the condition.

According to data collected by the American Psychological Association (APA), more than half of all individuals seeking either inpatient or outpatient treatment for mental health concerns possess a diagnosis of adjustment disorder.

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors for Adjustment Disorder

As stated above, adjustment disorder typically sets in after a traumatic, stressful event or experience. And yet, there is still more research to be done to uncover what puts one person at greater risk for developing the condition than another.

Risk Factors: While there is no single predictor, some causes and risk factors which are known to contribute to a person being more susceptible to suffering from adjustment disorder are briefly described below:

  • Becoming a parent
  • Changes in school
  • Retirement
  • Experiencing a natural disaster
  • Getting married
  • Business difficulties
  • Failing to attain occupational goals
  • Leaving or reentering a parental home
  • Suffering from a chronic and/or painful illness
  • Termination of a romantic relationship
  • Marital difficulties
  • Loss of a parent or other loved one
  • Significant problems in school
  • Living in a neighborhood that has a high rate of crime or violence

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Adjustment Disorder

Without prior experience with the condition, it can sometimes be difficult to discern whether one is suffering from a typical response to a distressing situation, or from symptoms of adjustment disorder. The following outlines some signs that one’s symptoms are of clinical significance, and may require professional help to address:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • No longer participating in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Failure to attend work or school
  • Onset of self-harming behaviors
  • Tearfulness
  • No longer adhering to other daily responsibilities
  • Drop in performance at work or school
  • Aggressive outbursts
  • Making attempts at suicide
  • Isolating oneself from friends and family members

Physical symptoms:

  • Other bodily aches and pains
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Persistent headaches
  • Chest pains
  • Muscle tension
  • Changes in eating patterns

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Experiencing difficulty concentrating
  • Experiencing memory disturbances
  • Struggling to make good decisions
  • Suffering from an inability to use sound judgment and reasoning

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Emotional instability
  • Depressed feelings
  • Feelings of nervousness
  • Anxious feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Excessive feelings of worry, concern, or dread


Effects of Adjustment Disorder

Left untreated, adjustment disorder can severely impact one’s ability to function at home, at work, and at school. Without the proper supports, once can expect damages to one’s physical health and emotional wellbeing that can have severe consequences such as:

  • Onset of symptoms of other mental health disorders
  • Persistent, unpredictable mood swings
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Decreased performance at work or school
  • Decline in social interactions
  • Suicidal behaviors
  • Beginning to abuse drugs or alcohol
  • Disturbed interpersonal relationships

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders & the Complexity of Adjustment Disorder

As is often the case with mental disorders, adjustment disorder is often co-occurring with other psychiatric conditions such as:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Specific phobia
  • Panic disorder
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