Adjustment Disorder Causes, Statistics, Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects

What is Adjustment Disorder?

Adjustment disorder is a mental illness that is characterized by an inability to cope with or adjust to transitions or major life events.  A man or woman who is struggling with an adjustment disorder may experience hopelessness, crying episodes, suicidal ideations, or general loss of interest during stressful transition periods.  According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), adjustment disorders share these main symptoms:  disturbance of conduct, mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct, depressed mood, anxiety, and mixed depression and anxiety.  While adjustment disorder has several similarities to depression, it is typically caused by an outside stressor; and unlike depressions, it can typically be resolved once adaptations have been made to the stressor.  Examples of stressors that can trigger adjustment disorder will vary according to the individual but can include the following:

  • Surviving a disaster, such as a flood or hurricane
  • Divorce or ending a relationship
  • Death of a loved one
  • Having an accident
  • Undergoing a major transition in life, such as retiring from a job, getting married, moving, or having a baby)
  • Developing a serious illness, or having a loved one who becomes ill
  • Being a victim of crime or abuse

Both emotional and behavioral symptoms can result in response to any of these events, developing into adjustment disorder.  This mental illness can be acute or chronic, depending on the length of time symptoms last for, though it is typically not longer than six months.  No matter the length of time one might be suffering with adjustment disorder, it can be debilitating to any individual, impacting their lives in multiple ways.  If you or a loved one is struggling with adjustment disorder, you can find hope in recovery by seeking appropriate resources and treatment.

Statistics on Adjustment Disorder

Statistics about adjustment disorder are helpful in better understanding this mental issue and in creating improved outcomes for those who are suffering.  The following are pertinent statistics about adjustment disorder that give great insight into this illness:

  • Diagnosis of adjustment disorder is becoming more common, with an estimated incidence of 5-21% among psychiatric consultation services for adults [1].
  • Adult women are diagnosed twice as often with adjustment disorder as are adult men [1].
  • Among children and adolescent, girls and boys are equally likely to receive this diagnosis [1].
  • Suicidal behavior is prominent among individuals of all ages with adjustment disorder, and up to one-fifth of adolescent suicide victims may have an adjustment disorder [2].
  • Within five years of an adjustment disorder diagnosis, approximately 20-50% of the sufferers go on to be diagnosed with psychiatric disorders that are more serious in nature [3].

Causes of Adjustment Disorder

There are some individuals who are at higher risk of developing adjustment disorder.  Factors that have been found to be associated with an increased incidence of adjustment disorder may include repeated exposure to trauma, being of younger age, or having increased suicidal behavior.

The main trigger of adjustment disorder is having an insufficient ability to cope with traumatic events or changing circumstances.  These can vary according to age groups.  For example, adults are more likely to experience stressors that pertain to marital or financial conflict.  In contrast, adolescent stressors may include parental separation, sexuality issues, death/illness of a loved one, or difficulties in school.  Exposure to any of these stressors during a lifetime can make an individual vulnerable to developing adjustment disorder if there is lack of coping mechanisms during transition periods.

Signs and Symptoms of Adjustment Disorder

A man, woman, adolescent, or child will display particular signs and symptoms if suffering with adjustment disorder.  If you or a loved one is struggling with adjustment disorder, these symptoms may help you become aware of what you are dealing with or lead you to reach out for professional help.  Common signs and symptoms of adjustment disorder include but are not limited to:

  • Insomnia, difficulty sleeping
  • Crying spells
  • Hopelessness or sadness
  • Reckless driving
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Social avoidance of family or friends
  • Suicidal behavior, ideations or attempts
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Expressing desperation or constant worry
  • Lack of enjoyment in activities once enjoyed

If you or your loved one has been experiencing any of these above symptoms as a result of adjustment disorder, it is recommended that you seek medical and professional help immediately.

Adjustment Disorder Effects

No matter the length of time one might be suffering with adjustment disorder, the effects can be difficult as they touch various aspects of life, including the physical, mental, and social aspects.  The effects of adjustment disorder can be debilitating if not treated or addressed professionally.  Understanding how adjustment disorder may affect the various facets of your life may encourage you to get the help you need and deserve.  The following are some of the effects of adjustment disorder:

Physical Effects – Adjustment disorder can be draining physically, as the body attempts to cope with stressors or traumatic circumstances.  These are some physical effects that may be experienced:

  • Insomnia
  • Abnormal behavior changes
  • Weight changes
  • Difficulty concentrating

Psychological Effects – Adjustment disorder will have a tremendous impact on your mental health, particularly if it is left untreated.  Some of the psychological effects that may be experienced include:

  • Extreme mood swings
  • Severe depression
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Aggressive outbursts
  • Suicidal ideations

Finally, adjustment disorder will affect the manner in which you or your loved one is able to relate socially.  Effects of adjustment disorder on one’s social life include:

  • Increased isolation and withdrawal from loved ones
  • Lack of enjoyment in hobbies or activities once enjoyed
  • Decreased performance in work or school
  • Marital or familial conflicts

Adjustment Disorder Treatment

If you or a loved one has been a victim of a traumatic event and has developed adjustment disorder as a result of such a stressor, you are not alone in your sufferings.  Fortunately, by seeking the appropriate help and care you need, you can find healing and hope from this mental illness.  Dealing with the effects of adjustment disorder in addition to environmental stressors can be overwhelming and isolating.  An adjustment disorder treatment center can provide the tools and resources you need to recover and heal from any situation you may have endured.


[1]:  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fourth edition, American Psychiatric Association, p. 681

[2]: Bisson JI, Sakhuja D. (2006). “Adjustment disorders”. Psychiatry 5 (7): 240-242. Bisson, J. I.; Sakhuja, D. (2006). “Adjustment disorders”. Psychiatry 5 (7): 240. doi:10.1053/j.mppsy.2006.04.004.

[3]: Bisson JI, Sakhuja D. (2006). “Adjustment disorders”. Psychiatry 5 (7): 240-242. Bisson, J. I.; Sakhuja, D. (2006). “Adjustment disorders”. Psychiatry 5 (7): 240. doi:10.1053/j.mppsy.2006.04.004. edit

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 15th, 2013
Published on, Addiction Information & Resources