Adjustment Disorder

Adjustment disorder is characterized by abnormal or excessive emotional or behavioral reactions to life events. For young people, some of these events can often be related to issues regarding sexuality, the death of a pet, moving, grades, family conflicts or various other social issues. For adults, some triggers often include marital problems and financial issues. For a person with adjustment disorder, seemingly minor events can cause great stress that manifests itself behaviorally, emotionally, and even physically.

Symptoms of Adjustment Disorder

Although some people may be predisposed to developing adjustment disorder, coping skills can help them deal with various stressful life changes and events. However, if these factors become too much for the person to handle, adjustment disorder can be triggered very easily. After exposure to the “stressor,” or initial cause of the condition, adjustment disorder generally develops within the next 3 months. For a doctor to diagnose adjustment disorder, the patient’s symptoms must be intrusive enough to disturb his or her social or work life. Common symptoms include:

Causes of Adjustment Disorder

The causes of adjustment disorder vary from person to person, but the susceptibility to stress can be linked to factors like intelligence, coping skills, genetic factors and learned or inherited social skills. However, no specific link has been made to connect adjustment disorder to biological factors. This suggests that treatment for the condition is best left to psychotherapy.

Treatment of Adjustment Disorder

Diagnosis of adjustment disorder should be handled by a licensed mental health professional that will evaluate the patient based on an interview and complete developmental history. Treatment will be based on this evaluation as well as the specific inciting stressor. This treatment often includes individual psychotherapy based on cognitive-behavioral approaches, peer groups, family therapy and in fewer cases, medications. Medications are only used for a short time and only if the symptoms are very severe and known to respond to them. Untreated adjustment disorder may sometimes disappear on its own if the stressor is no longer a part of the person’s life or if the person is willing to seek help and accept the support of others.

You should not let adjustment disorder linger and adversely affect your work and social life. If you are overly anxious or restless from a recent stressful event or life change, or if you know someone that is and you believe that they may be exhibiting the symptoms of adjustment disorder, seek support. There are plenty of doctors, peers and mental health professionals that are willing to help and guide you in the right direction.

View Resources

  • Ohio State Medical Center – Their site contains plenty of useful information on what adjustment disorder is, its symptoms, causes, who is affected and treatment.
  • MedlinePlus – useful info regarding adjustment disorder’s causes, symptoms, treatment and outlook.
  • macmh.org – very detailed information regarding adjustment disorder (especially treatment)

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