Adjustment Disorder: Definition, Symptoms, & Treatment


people worldwide live with adjustment disorder

Adjustment disorders are characterized by excessive reactions to stressors that create negative thought loops and can create behavioral issues. This disorder is commonly identified in children and adolescents, yet it can also impact adults. The symptoms of adjustment disorders present differently depending on the type. These disorders can manifest with symptoms like anxiety, depressed mood, emotional turmoil, disturbances in behavior, or a blend of these states.

Treatment approaches for adjustment disorders are contingent on various factors, including individual psychotherapy, family therapy, and group therapy involving peers.

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What is Adjustment Disorder?

An adjustment disorder refers to a behavioral or emotional response triggered by a significant event or transition in a person’s life. This reaction is considered excessive or unhealthy when it occurs within three months of the event. For children and adolescents, such events might include a family relocation, parental divorce, loss of a pet, or the arrival of a new sibling. An adjustment response may also arise from sudden illness or the imposition of restrictions due to chronic health conditions. Although adjustment disorders can affect adults, they are more commonly diagnosed in children and adolescents.

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Types of Adjustment Disorders

Adjustment disorders, sometimes broadly described as situational depression, are categorized into subtypes based on the predominant symptoms and emotional responses. These subtypes help to better understand the nature of the person’s reaction to the stressful event. 

Adjustment disorder with depressed mood

This subtype involves feeling sad and hopeless alongside a general sense of despair in response to the stressful event. Individuals may experience changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, and difficulty concentrating.

Adjustment disorder with anxiety

In this subtype, excessive worry, nervousness, and feelings of apprehension are prevalent responses to the stressor. Physical symptoms such as trembling, restlessness, and palpitations may also occur.

Adjustment disorder with anxiety and depressed mood

This subtype combines symptoms of both depression and anxiety. Individuals may feel sad, irritable, and anxious simultaneously. Challenges with sleep, appetite, and concentration may be evident.

Adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct

This subtype involves behavioral changes like acting out, defiance, or engaging in risky behaviors in response to the stressor. These behaviors might deviate from the person’s usual conduct and may lead to conflicts with authority figures.

Adjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct

In this subtype, emotional and behavioral symptoms coexist. Individuals may experience a combination of mood swings, irritability, and conduct disturbances.

Unspecified adjustment disorder

This subtype is used when the person’s symptoms do not precisely fit into the above categories but still indicate a significant emotional reaction to a stressor. 

Identifying the specific subtype of adjustment disorder helps healthcare professionals tailor treatment plans to address the predominant symptoms and emotional challenges faced by the individual. The subtypes are not mutually exclusive, and it is possible for someone to experience elements from multiple subtypes.


Symptoms of Adjustment Disorders

Personality disorders like adjustment disorders are diagnosed according to the symptoms outlined in DSM-5-TR (the latest revised edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

Adjustment disorder criteria can vary greatly depending on the individual, the nature of the stressor, and their overall coping mechanisms. These are the adjustment disorder DSM 5

Excessive sadness or hopelessness

Intense feelings of sadness, despair, or a sense of impending doom.

Anxiety and worry

Heightened feelings of fear, unease, or worry, often accompanied by physical sensations like restlessness and racing heart.


Increased irritability, agitation, and a shorter temper than usual.

Lack of interest

Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyable.

Changes in sleep patterns

Insomnia, nightmares, or oversleeping as a response to the stressor.


Appetite changes

Significant weight loss or gain due to altered eating habits.

Physical aches and pains

Unexplained physical complaints such as headaches, stomachaches, or muscle tension.

Social withdrawal

Avoiding social interactions and isolating from friends and family.

Reckless behavior

Engaging in impulsive, risky activities that are out of character.

Academic or occupational impairment

Decreased performance in school, work, or other responsibilities.

Conflict and defiance

Frequent conflicts with authority figures, defiance, or refusal to follow rules.

Difficulty concentrating

Struggling to focus, make decisions, or retain information.

Memory issues

Forgetfulness and difficulty recalling information.

Negative self-talk

Persistent negative thoughts about self, the situation, or the future.

Relationship strain

Increased conflicts and challenges within relationships, including family, friends, and peers.


Withdrawing from others due to feelings of shame, guilt, or embarrassment.

Adjustment disorder symptoms may overlap with those of other mental health conditions, making accurate diagnosis a cornerstone of effective treatment. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms following a stressful event, seek professional help for proper assessment and guidance. Early intervention and appropriate support can streamline coping and recovery.

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If you have been feeling any of these symptoms, and you are in need of help, please give our friendly team a call.

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Treatment for Adjustment Disorders

The appropriate treatment strategy for adjustment disorders will be determined by the healthcare provider, considering factors such as:

  • Age, general health, and medical history
  • Severity of symptoms
  • Subtype of adjustment disorder
  • Receptiveness to specific therapies
  • Predictions regarding the course of the stressful event
  • Personal preference

Potential treatment options may involve:

Individual psychotherapy

This therapy employs cognitive-behavioral techniques, aiming to enhance age-appropriate problem-solving, communication, impulse control, anger management, and stress coping skills.

Family therapy

This approach often centers on initiating necessary changes within the family dynamic, such as enhancing communication and interactions. An additional emphasis is placed on promoting increased family support.

Peer group therapy

This form of therapy is geared towards honing social and interpersonal skills, often in a group setting.


Medication usage is generally limited in the treatment of adjustment disorders and is not normally a first-line treatment.

Collaborating with the healthcare provider and considering various factors will guide the decision-making process.

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Get Treatment for Adjustment Disorders at Connections

We specialize in the treatment of mental health disorders like adjustment disorder at Connections Mental Health in Southern California. Our compassionate and experienced team deliver customized care for those dealing with personality disorders like adjustment disorder.

Our tranquil beachside facility is intended to offer a nurturing, homely setting in which you can engage with treatment that blends the latest psychiatric science with holistic interventions for whole-body healing.

Whether you or a loved one are struggling with mental health issues, you can gain clarity, stability, and support at Connections Mental Health. Call admissions today at (844) 413-0009 for more information about our inpatient adjustment disorder treatment programs and start your healing journey tomorrow.

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