Adjustment Disorder Causes, Symptoms & Signs

The symptoms of adjustment disorder can often be difficult to identify. Once an individual identifies the symptoms and side effects of adjustment disorder, the next step in the recovery journey become clear.

What is Adjustment Disorder?

What is adjustment disorder

When a person goes through a life change, whether it is expected or unexpected, and is unable to effectively cope with said change, the symptoms of adjustment disorder may manifest. This mental health condition, which is not to be confused with posttraumatic stress disorder or another trauma-related illness, can include distressing symptoms that can make daily, healthy functioning exceptionally difficult.  

Adapting to change is part of the human experience, as life has a tendency of not always going according to plan. Therefore, when someone loses a job, moves to a new community, gets married or divorced, or has a baby, and then does not handle the period of adjustment well, adjustment disorder may be present. In many instances, the symptoms of this illness dissipate over time. However, should an individual develop severe symptoms of this disorder, or develop additional mental health concerns at the same time, treatment is often warranted in order to improve the person’s life.  

Thankfully, there are numerous options for care that people with adjustment disorder can access. With proper support and therapy, an individual can learn to cope with present and future life changes with great ease and without again developing symptoms of adjustment disorder.    


Adjustment disorder statistics

According to the American Psychological Association, or APA, adjustment disorder is said to affect over half of all individuals who seek out some sort of mental health treatment. In fact, men, women, and young people of all ages are believed to suffer from this condition following some sort of life stressor. And while certain other disorders are more well-known among the general public, this condition is frequently diagnosed and can be effectively treated via inpatient and/or outpatient care.  

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for adjustment disorder

While the onset of adjustment disorder symptoms rely on the experience of enduring some sort of life change(s), there are certain other causes and risk factors that can make an individual more vulnerable to battling this mental health condition. Please consider the following explanations that researchers believe shed light on why some people suffer from adjustment disorder while others do not:  

EnvironmentalLacking proper social support in the event a significant life change occurs can certainly contribute to the onset of adjustment disorder symptoms. Similarly, if an individual does not possess the necessary skills for coping with life stressors this may also increase the risk for eventually suffering from this illness.  

Risk Factors 

  • Leaving or reentering a parental home 
  • Loss of a parent or other loved one 
  • Exposure to crime or violence  
  • Having a baby  
  • Retiring  
  • Suffering from a chronic and/or painful illness 
  • Termination of a romantic relationship 
  • Marital difficulties / divorce  
  • Experiencing a natural disaster 
  • Getting married 
  • Financial strain  

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of adjustment disorder

If you are concerned that an important person in your life may be grappling with the symptoms of adjustment disorder, it could be beneficial to note the presence of certain signs and symptoms. The following behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms may be apparent in those with adjustment disorder:  

Behavioral symptoms: 

  • Acting out behaviors  
  • Self-harming 
  • Isolating oneself from friends and family members 
  • Tearfulness 
  • No longer participating in activities that were once enjoyed 
  • Failing to attend work  
  • Onset of self-harming behaviors 
  • No longer attending to responsibilities 
  • Drop in performance at work  


Physical symptoms: 

  • Bodily aches and pains 
  • Sleep disturbances 
  • Chest pains 
  • Muscle tension 
  • Changes in eating habits 
  • Persistent headaches 


Cognitive symptoms: 

  • Memory disturbances 
  • Poor decision-making skills  
  • Poor concentration 


Psychosocial symptoms: 

  • Feelings of nervousness  
  • Feelings of anxiety  
  • Feelings of hopelessness 
  • Emotional instability 
  • Depressed feelings 


Effects of adjustment disorder

Delaying or failing to receive proper care for adjustment disorder can lead to a series of consequences that can alter the course of a person’s life. Depending on the precipitating event(s) that led to the onset of this illness, the severity of the symptoms present, and the presence of any co-occurring disorders, the following effects may occur if a person continues to suffer from adjustment disorder without effective treatment and support:  

  • Substance abuse, which could lead to addiction or chemical dependency  
  • Onset of symptoms of other mental health disorders 
  • Suicidal thoughts 
  • Decreased performance at work  
  • Loss of meaningful relationships  
  • Divorce  
  • Social isolation 
  • Self-harm 

Co-Occurring Disorders

Adjustment disorder and co-occurring disorders

It is quite likely that an individual can suffer from certain co-occurring conditions while also suffering from adjustment disorder. If a person was battling mental illness before the onset of adjustment disorder symptoms, or if adjustment disorder symptoms triggered the onset of other mental health conditions, it is possible that an individual will then require care for adjustment disorder and one or more of the following co-occurring disorders in the event that treatment is sought:  

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) 
  • Anxiety disorders  
  • Depressive disorders 
  • Bipolar disorder 
Marks of Quality Care
These affiliations are an official recognition of Riverview’s dedication to offering exceptional treatment.
  • Arkansas Hospital Association
  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)
  • The Joint Commission (JCAHO) Gold Seal of Approval
Take a Quick Online Assessment

Initially, I was afraid to face myself and seek help for my issues. After only a couple of weeks in therapy, my progress was undeniable. My biggest regret is I didn't reach out to Riverview sooner.

– A former patient