Adjustment Disorders – Symptoms and Causes

Introduction: Understanding Adjustment Disorders

Life is full of changes and challenges, and it’s natural to experience a range of emotions in response to these events. However, sometimes these reactions can become overwhelming and affect our daily functioning. Adjustment disorders are characterized by an excessive or prolonged emotional or behavioral response to a stressful life event or change. They are different from other mental health disorders as they are directly linked to a specific trigger.

Definition and Diagnostic Criteria

Adjustment disorders are classified as a group of psychological conditions in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). According to the DSM-5, adjustment disorders involve the development of emotional or behavioral symptoms within three months of a stressor. These symptoms should be out of proportion to the severity or intensity of the stressor and significantly impair the individual’s ability to function.

Types of Adjustment Disorders

There are several subtypes of adjustment disorders, each characterized by different symptoms and manifestations. The common subtypes include:

1. Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood

Individuals with this subtype often experience feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and lack of interest or pleasure in daily activities. They may also have changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, and difficulty concentrating.

2. Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety

This subtype is characterized by excessive worry, nervousness, and fearfulness. Individuals may experience restlessness, muscle tension, and have difficulty relaxing or sleeping.

3. Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Anxiety and Depressed Mood

People with this subtype experience a combination of symptoms from both depression and anxiety subtypes. They may have feelings of sadness, anxiety, and experience physical symptoms like insomnia and fatigue.

4. Adjustment Disorder with Disturbance of Conduct

This subtype is associated with behavioral symptoms, such as acting out, reckless behavior, and violations of rules and norms. Individuals may engage in substance abuse, aggression, or other forms of impulsive behavior.

5. Adjustment Disorder Unspecified

This subtype is used when the symptoms do not fit into any specific subtype but still meet the criteria for an adjustment disorder. It includes a wide range of symptoms and reactions.

Common Symptoms of Adjustment Disorders

Adjustment disorders can manifest in various ways, and the symptoms can be both emotional and behavioral. Here are some common symptoms:

1. Emotional Symptoms

  • Sadness or hopelessness
  • Anxiety or excessive worry
  • Irritability or anger
  • Lack of interest or pleasure
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness

2. Behavioral Symptoms

  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Impulsive or reckless behavior
  • Substance abuse
  • Avoidance of usual activities or responsibilities

3. Physical Symptoms

  • Headaches or stomachaches
  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Sleep disturbances

Causes of Adjustment Disorders

Various factors can contribute to the development of adjustment disorders. Here are some common causes:

1. Life Transitions and Stressful Events

Major life changes such as divorce, relocation, retirement, or the loss of a loved one can trigger adjustment disorders. These events disrupt an individual’s sense of stability and familiarity, leading to emotional distress.

2. Relationship Issues

Difficulties in personal relationships, such as conflicts with family members, friends, or romantic partners, can be significant stressors that contribute to adjustment disorders.

3. Work-related Challenges

High work demands, job loss, workplace conflicts, or career transitions can cause significant stress and impact an individual’s mental well-being.

4. Financial Problems

Financial instability, debt, or unexpected financial burdens can lead to feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, and distress.

5. Chronic Illness or Disability

Being diagnosed with a chronic illness or experiencing a disability can cause significant emotional and psychological challenges, resulting in adjustment disorders.

Diagnosing Adjustment Disorders

To diagnose an adjustment disorder, a mental health professional will conduct a thorough evaluation. They will assess the individual’s symptoms, the timing of symptoms in relation to the stressor, and the functional impairment caused by the symptoms. It is essential to rule out other mental health disorders with similar symptoms.

Treatment Options

The treatment of adjustment disorders often involves a combination of approaches tailored to the individual’s specific needs. Here are some common treatment options:

1. Psychotherapy

Talk therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can help individuals develop coping strategies, challenge negative thought patterns, and manage their emotional responses to stressors.

2. Medication

In some cases, medication may be prescribed to alleviate specific symptoms associated with adjustment disorders, such as anxiety or depression. Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications may be used, but they are typically used in conjunction with therapy.

3. Support Groups and Self-Help Strategies

Participating in support groups or seeking support from friends and family can provide individuals with a sense of understanding and connection. Additionally, practicing self-care, engaging in relaxation techniques, and adopting healthy coping mechanisms can be beneficial.

4. Lifestyle Changes

Implementing positive lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise, healthy eating habits, and adequate sleep, can contribute to overall well-being and resilience in coping with stressors.

Prognosis and Outlook

With appropriate treatment and support, most individuals with adjustment disorders can recover and resume their normal functioning within a relatively short period. However, if left untreated, adjustment disorders can persist or lead to the development of other mental health conditions.


Adjustment disorders are a common psychological condition that occurs in response to stressful life events or changes. Understanding the symptoms and causes of adjustment disorders is crucial in recognizing and addressing this mental health issue. Seeking professional help and support is essential for individuals experiencing difficulties in adjusting to life stressors, as early intervention can lead to effective treatment and a positive outcome.


Can adjustment disorders affect anyone at any age?

Yes, adjustment disorders can affect individuals of all ages, from children to older adults. The triggers and manifestations may vary across different age groups.

How long does it take to recover from an adjustment disorder?

The recovery time can vary depending on the individual and the severity of the symptoms. With appropriate treatment and support, most individuals recover within six months to a year.

Can adjustment disorders coexist with other mental health conditions?

Yes, it is possible for individuals to experience adjustment disorders alongside other mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders or depression.

Are adjustment disorders preventable?

While it may not always be possible to prevent adjustment disorders, building resilience, maintaining a healthy support system, and practicing effective stress management techniques can help reduce the risk.

When should I seek professional help for adjustment disorders?

It is recommended to seek professional help if your symptoms significantly impair your daily functioning, last longer than expected, or cause distress to you or those around you.


  1. American Psychiatric Association (APA): The official website of the APA provides valuable resources and information on various mental health disorders, including adjustment disorders. You can visit their website at to access relevant articles and publications.
  2. Mayo Clinic: Mayo Clinic is a renowned medical institution that offers reliable information on various health conditions. Their website features comprehensive articles on adjustment disorders, their symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment options. You can find their content at
  3. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): NIMH is a leading research institution focused on mental health. Their website provides extensive resources on various mental disorders, including adjustment disorders. Visit to access their research-based articles and publications.
  4. WebMD: WebMD is a popular online platform that offers accessible and user-friendly health information. They provide articles on adjustment disorders, their symptoms, causes, and treatment options. You can find their content at
  5. Psychology Today: Psychology Today is a trusted source for information on mental health and well-being. They cover a wide range of topics related to adjustment disorders, including articles written by mental health professionals. Visit their website at to explore their collection of articles on adjustment disorders.

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