Causes, Signs, & Effects of Adjustment Disorder

Are you concerned that you or a loved one may be struggling with adjustment disorder? Learn about the causes, signs, and effects to identify whether professional treatment may be necessary.

Understanding Adjustment Disorder

Learn about adjustment disorder

Major life changes could include a number of events such as, but not limited to, migrating to another country, death of a loved one, family changes, job changes, or losing one’s possessions due to a natural calamity. Whatever the case may be, the changes that happened may cause a toll in a person’s life and overall disposition, which could lead to the onset of adjustment disorder.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition defines adjustment disorder as a common type of mental illness that occurs within three months after a person experiences an identifiably stressful or uncomfortable situation. It may start as soon as the stressful event happens or even a few months after the occurrence.

The symptoms of adjustment disorders create a significant and marked distress that is not culturally or personally normal. This could also cause impairment in work, social life, or family life. The good news is that these symptoms typically disappear or become less severe within six months, especially if the individual is not continually exposed to new stressors.

While adjustment disorders are active, the individual may feel very uncomfortable, anxious, or depressed. The person may also exhibit strange or unhealthy behaviors or behave in ways that are not helpful to his or her career or family life. There are treatments available for relief, but most people with this condition find quality recovery with support and care.


Adjustment disorder statistics

Adjustment disorder is one of the most common mental health diagnoses affecting all age groups. This condition also accounts for as many as 20% of all outpatient mental health support visits and 50% of inpatient (overnight) settings.

Causes and Risk Factors

Learn what is known about the causes of adjustment disorder

Adjustment disorder begins when a person experiences a stressful event or chronic or repeated trauma, thereby increasing the risk of developing this condition. The individual may react with behaviors or emotions that cause discomfort or difficulty in everyday life. Aside from this, below are the other risk factors that increase an individual’s likelihood of getting diagnosed with adjustment disorder.

Risk Factors:

A number of different experiences plus various stressors may lead to the onset of adjustment disorder. While there is no limit on the types of situations that may cause adjustment disorder, some of the events that can lead to adjustment disorder may include:

  • Diagnosis of a serious or chronic illness
  • Retirement or any major life changes
  • Drastic shifts in living or occupational goals
  • Conflict in marriage or any relationships
  • End of a romantic relationship
  • Becoming a new parent, or losing a child
  • Business losses or difficulties
  • Problems with school or work
  • Community violence or crime
  • Natural disasters such as fire, storm, or flood

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of adjustment disorder

The effects of adjustment disorder vary from person to person. The type of event that caused the symptoms of the disorder to develop and the person’s personality, support network, and lifestyle can all impact the type and severity of symptoms that arise as the result of adjustment disorder. Some of the varied symptoms of adjustment disorder may include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Crying or tearfulness
  • Isolating oneself from friends or family
  • Aggression or uncharacteristic irritability
  • Decline in work or school performance
  • Skipping work, school, or other important events
  • Suicide attempts
  • Refusal to participate in previously enjoyed activities
  • Neglect of daily responsibilities

Physical symptoms:

  • Body pains such as headache and stomachache
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Body tension or inability to relax
  • Chest pains or pounding heartbeat at times

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Difficulty in retaining information or recalling memories
  • Forgetfulness or losing items
  • Lack of concentration when completing tasks
  • Inability to make quick, good decisions
  • Lapses in sound judgment
  • Suicidal thoughts

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Unstable emotions
  • Sudden mood changes
  • Nervousness or jumpiness
  • Feeling hopeless or restless
  • Excessive feelings of dread, worry, or concern


Effects of adjustment disorder

Typically, the symptoms of adjustment disorder will not last longer than six months. However, there are situations that may prolong this condition and go beyond six months because of the presence of ongoing stressors or trauma. In most cases, the symptoms can be very uncomfortable and may lead to unfortunate outcomes. Without proper attention and treatment, adjustment disorder could lead to:

  • Unpredictable mood swings
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Substance use or abuse
  • Lower performance at work or school
  • Lowered social contact
  • Onset of other mental health disorders
  • Difficulties within or lost interpersonal relationships
  • Job termination
  • Financial difficulties

In this case, seeking professional treatment in order to determine if additional treatments are needed will help an individual recover from this kind of mental health condition.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Adjustment disorder and co-occurring disorders

Adjustment disorder may occur alongside other mental health concerns. The American Psychiatric Association listed some of the potential co-occurring disorders, including:

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