Adjustment disorder

Adjustment disorder

Description, Causes and Risk Factors:

A group of mental and behavioral disorders in which the development of symptoms is related to the presence of some environmental stressor or life event and is expected to remit when the stress ceases.

An adjustment disorder is a type of stress-related mental illness. You may feel anxious or depressed, or even have thoughts of suicide. Your normal daily routines may feel overwhelming or you may make reckless decisions. In essence, you have a hard time adjusting to change in your life, and it has serious consequences.

adjustment disorder

People of all ages are affected by adjustment disorders. Among children and teenagers, both boys and girls have about the same chance of having this disease. Among adults, women are twice as likely to have adjustment disorders. But researchers are still trying to figure out what causes this disease. As with other mental disorders, the cause is likely complex and may involve genetics, your life experiences, your temperament and even changes in the natural chemicals in the brain.

Major risk factors may include:

    Relationship breakup.

  • Financial problem.

  • Not satisfied with the ongoing events.

  • Stressful situations.

  • Difficult life circumstances.

Compared with adults, teenagers with adjustment disorder — especially chronic adjustment disorder marked by behavioral problems — are at significantly increased risk of long-term problems. In addition to depression, substance abuse and suicidal behavior, teenagers with this disease are at risk of developing psychiatric illnesses such as:


  • Bipolar disorder.

  • Antisocial personality disorder (APD).

There are no guaranteed ways to prevent adjustment disorder. But developing healthy coping skills and learning to be resilient may help you during times of high stress. Resilience is the ability to adapt well to stress, adversity, trauma or tragedy.


Symptoms may include:


  • Hopelessness.

  • Lack of enjoyment.

  • Crying spells.

  • Nervousness.

  • Thoughts of suicide.

  • Anxiety.

  • Depression.

  • Desperation.

  • Trouble sleeping.

  • Difficulty concentrating.

  • Aggressive behavior.

  • Avoiding family or friends.


Adjustment disorders are diagnosed based on signs and symptoms and a thorough psychological evaluation. To be diagnosed with this disease, someone must meet criteria spelled out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This manual is published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and is used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental conditions and by insurance companies to reimburse for treatment.

For an adjustment disorder to be diagnosed, several criteria must be met, including:

    Having emotional or behavioral symptoms within three months of a specific stressor occurring in your life.

  • Experiencing more stress than what would normally be expected in response to the stressor or having stress that causes significant problems in your relationships, at work or at home.

  • An improvement of symptoms within six months of the stressful event coming to an end.

Both the ICD-10 and DSM-IV sub-types of adjustment disorder depend on theprofile of symptoms which an individual experiences. However, it should benoted that although the overall condition of this disease is valid,separating the disorder into sub-categories may be of no benefit.

The ICD-10 delineates the following sub-types:

    Brief depressive reaction.

  • Prolonged depressive reaction.

  • Mixed anxiety and depressive reaction.

  • Adjustment disorder with predominant disturbance of otheremotions.

  • Adjustment disorder with predominant disturbance of conduct.

  • Adjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of emotions andconduct.

  • Adjustment disorder with other specified predominant symptoms.

Subtypes in DSM-IV are given below. The disorders are specified as “acute” iflasting less than 6 months, or “chronic” if the disturbance persists for longerthan 6 months in the presence of a long-lasting stressor.

    Adjustment disorder with depressed mood.

  • Adjustment disorder with anxiety.

  • Adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood.

  • Adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct.

  • Adjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of emotions andconduct.

  • Unspecified adjustment disorder.


Most people find treatment of adjustment disorder helpful, and they often require treatment only briefly. Others may benefit from longer treatment, though. There are two main types of treatment for this disease — psychotherapy and medications.

Psychotherapy: The main treatment for adjustment disorders is Psychotherapy, also called counseling or talk therapy. You may attend Individual Therapy, Group Therapy or Family Therapy. Therapy can provide emotional support and help you get back to your normal routine. It can also help you learn why the stressful event affected you so much. As you understand more about this connection, you can also learn healthy coping skills. These skills can help you deal with other stressful events that may arise in your life.

Medications: In some cases, medications may help, too. Medications can help with such symptoms as depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are the medications most often used to treat this disease. As with therapy, you may need medications only for a few months.

NOTE: The above information is educational purpose. The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition.

DISCLAIMER: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care.


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