Adjustment Disorder Causes & Effects

The signs, symptoms, and effects of adjustment disorder can look different for each person impacted. Learning about adjustment disorder is one of the first steps toward healing.

Understanding Adjustment Disorder

Learn about adjustment disorder

Adjustment disorder is a mental illness that is characterized by the development of emotional and behavioral disturbances as a result of experiencing an identifiable stressor. The symptoms that arise are clinically significant and can include impairment in occupational functioning, social interaction, and/or other areas of daily functioning. Additionally, the symptoms that manifest demonstrate a clear level of distress in the individual that is out of proportion to the intensity or severity of the circumstance that caused the reaction. There are a number of occurrences that can lead to the development of adjustment disorder, and the distress that is experienced as a result will vary amongst individuals. In some cases, the symptoms will manifest shortly after the stressor occurred while, in other cases, they may not present for up to three months following the initial stressor. Fortunately, the symptoms of adjustment disorder typically dissipate within six months, except in circumstances where people are exposed to ongoing or recurrent stressors. Seeking treatment to address the concerns that arise due to adjustment disorder is important so as to prevent the duration of symptoms and to provide individuals with the relief they need from the distress they are experiencing.


Adjustment disorder statistics

Adjustment disorder is said to be extremely common among all age groups. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association reports that, in inpatient hospital settings, it is typically the most frequently diagnosed disorder, often reaching as high as 50 percent.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for adjustment disorder

The development of adjustment disorder occurs when an individual experiences an environmental stressor, or a series of stressors, that causes him or her to respond with distressing emotional or behavioral symptoms. Individuals who are subjected to disadvantaged life circumstances or who are exposed to chronically stressful situations are at an increased risk for experiencing the onset of this disorder.

Risk Factors: Adjustment disorder can result from a number of different types of circumstances and may be the product of one specific stressor or recurrent stressors. Examples of various events known to elicit the onset of symptoms of adjustment disorder include, but are not limited to, the following:

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

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of adjustment disorder

The types of symptoms that are displayed when an individual is suffering from adjustment disorder will inevitably vary from person to person depending upon a number of factors. Such factors can include the person’s age, the particular circumstances surrounding the event that precipitated the onset of the disorder, and the support network that the individual has available to him or her. Examples of various symptoms are listed below:

Behavioral symptoms:

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

Physical symptoms:

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

Cognitive symptoms:

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

Psychosocial symptoms:

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


Effects of adjustment disorder

Due to the nature of adjustment disorder, the symptoms that plague individuals who suffer from this mental illness typically do not last longer than six months following the event that triggered their onset. However, in circumstances where individuals are exposed to ongoing stressors, the symptoms may persist for longer periods of time. Examples of various effects that can arise from the presence of adjustment disorder when treatment is not sought include, but are not limited to, the following:

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

Co-Occurring Disorders

Adjustment disorder and co-occurring disorders

Unfortunately, adjustment disorder is a condition that can co-occur alongside most other mental health disorders, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Examples of such co-occurring disorders include, but are not limited to, the following:

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

I now am on the road to recovery because of the process groups and my personal therapist at Southcoast. Thank you for helping me get my life together. I am forever grateful!

– Anonymous Client
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