Signs, Symptoms, and Effects of Teen Adjustment Disorder

Understanding Adjustment Disorder

Learn More About Adjustment Disorder

When a teen goes through a change in life and is unable to cope with the alterations present, he or she may be suffering from adjustment disorder. This mental health condition can be triggered by moving to a new home, changing schools, the birth of a sibling, divorce, a change in one’s peer group, or another type of circumstance that requires the youth to adapt.

Typically, symptoms of this condition subside after a period of time, though the strife experienced during this time can be quite overwhelming. When a young person does not possess the coping skills needed to get through a difficult period brought on by such a change, proper effective care may be necessary. With effective treatment, a teen struggling with the symptoms of adjustment disorder can develop the skills and confidence needed to handle past, present, and future life stressors with greater ease.


Statistics of Teen Adjustment Disorder

It is estimated that approximately half of all teens who receive treatment for a mental health concern meet diagnostic criteria for adjustment disorder. Additionally, and unlike some other mental disorders, adjustment disorder is equally diagnosed among teen girls and boys. Mental health experts also report that when a youth is suffering from adjustment disorder, he or she will initially display behaviors of acting out at the disorder’s onset.

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors for Teen Adjustment Disorder

There are many contributing factors that can cause a teen to suffer from adjustment disorder. And even though some sort of life change must occur in order for this illness to develop, researchers believe that several causes and risk factors are at work, including the following:

Genetic: While adjustment disorder is directly influenced by the occurrence of a significant change in one’s life, researchers believe that some teens may be more vulnerable to adjustment disorder if they possess a certain type of genetic history. For example, if a teen has a family history of mental illness, namely one that includes anxiety disorders, the risk of then experiencing adjustment disorder symptoms following a life change is greater.

Environmental: Since adjustment disorder is caused by an external stressor, the environment in which a teen spends most of his or her time can greatly impact the onset of adjustment disorder symptoms. Experiencing the death of a close family member or friend, moving to a new community and changing schools, parental divorce, and being the victim of a trauma are all examples of such stressors, and can all signify the start of adjustment disorder. Furthermore, if a youth lacks health coping skills and adequate support, this disorder is more likely to occur if one of the aforementioned events transpire.

Risk Factors:

  • Lacking strong social skills
  • Parental divorce or separation
  • Experiencing a traumatic event
  • Recent birth or adoption of a child
  • Lacking emotional flexibility
  • Lacking appropriate coping skills
  • Exposure to chronic stress
  • Being the victim of abuse and/or neglect
  • Family history of anxiety disorders or other mental health conditions
  • Preexisting mental illness
  • Losing a loved one
  • Moving to a new place
  • Changing schools

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Teen Adjustment Disorder

When a teen is struggling with untreated adjustment disorder symptoms, there are many telltale signs that can be observable to caregivers, teachers, and other adults in the youth’s life. If you suspect that a youth in your life may be suffering from adjustment disorder, it could be helpful to note the presence of any of the following symptoms and consult with a mental health professional in your area:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Using drugs and/or alcohol
  • Engaging in risky or self-destructive behaviors
  • Tearfulness
  • School refusal
  • Defiance at home or school
  • Isolating oneself from family and friends
  • Engaging in self-harming behaviors
  • No longer participating in activities once enjoyed
  • Temper tantrums
  • Aggressive outbursts
  • Vandalism

Physical symptoms:

  • Trembling
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Chest pains
  • Chronic stomachaches
  • Chronic headaches
  • Muscle tension

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory disturbances
  • Lacking the ability to make plans
  • Inability to make good decisions
  • Concentration difficulties

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feeling helplessness
  • Feelings of hostility
  • Fearing being apart from certain individuals
  • Increased anxiety
  • Depression
  • Feelings of nervousness
  • Feeling overwhelmed


Effects of Teen Adjustment Disorder

Without proper, effective treatment, a teen who is grappling with adjustment disorder may go on to experience a variety of negative consequences as a result. However, with treatment, the following adversities can be avoided:

  • Ongoing or worsening feelings of depression and anxiety
  • Unpredictable mood swings
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Social isolation
  • Familial conflict
  • Development of symptoms of other mental illnesses
  • Academic struggles
  • Academic failure

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders & the Complexity of Teen Adjustment Disorder

In the event a teen receives treatment for adjustment disorder, he or she will be assessed for the presence of other mental health conditions as well. Among the types of disorders that a young person may receive care for in addition to adjustment disorder are the following:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Learning disorders
  • Specific phobias
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Communication disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Eating disorders
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I thought I had lost my child to adjustment disorder, but thanks to Greenleaf, he's back to who he used to be.

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