Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Adjustment Disorder

Definition

Adjustment disorder is an overreaction to a stressful event. There can be one or more events. They can affect one person or a group. How you react causes problems with work, school, and other people in your life.

The subtypes are:

  • Depressed mood
  • Anxiety
  • Mixed anxiety and depressed mood
  • Disturbance of conduct
  • Mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct

Causes ^

Adjustment disorders start with stressful life events. Problems may start with:

  • Other people in your life such as family, friends, or those you work with
  • Money
  • School
  • Work
  • Health
  • Marriage
  • Death of loved ones
  • Moving
  • Being in the military or going to war
  • Sexuality

Risk Factors ^

Adjustment disorders are more common in adult women. But, the risk is the same for boys and girls. Your risk is higher for:

  • Having any of the problems listed above
  • Your genes
  • Having other mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Problems with how your family works as a unit
  • Having major life changes as a child that you didn’t cope well with

Symptoms ^

Adjustment disorder starts within 3 months of the event. It can last up to 6 months after the stressor is taken away. Sometimes, symptoms may last longer than 6 months.

The problems you have depend on the subtype. How you react causes issues with work, school, or other people in your life.

The most common are:

  • Depressed or fixed mood, sadness
  • Breathing problems
  • Chest pain
  • Worry
  • Feeling that you can't cope
  • Feeling that you’re stuck and can’t move ahead
  • Not following norms of society such as recklessness, fighting, or destroying property

Physical Symptoms of Anxiety
Physical reaction anxiety

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Diagnosis ^

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A psychological exam will be done. This will help rule out other mental health problems.

Treatment ^

The goal is to find the source of your stress. Doing so will also help keep your problems from getting worse.

You may have one or both:

Counseling

Cognitive behavioral therapy, and other types of therapy are the main treatments. Therapy will help you find out what event started causing problems. You also learn how to cope with these types of events. Therapy may be:

  • Alone
  • Family
  • Behavioral
  • Group

Medicines

Medicines are used with therapy to treat:

Prevention ^

There is no way to prevent adjustment disorders since the cause is unknown.

RESOURCES:

American Psychiatric Association
https://www.psychiatry.org

National Institute of Mental Health
https://www.nimh.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Mental Health Association
https://cmha.ca

Canadian Psychiatric Association
https://www.cpa-apc.org

REFERENCES:

Acute stress disorder. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114321/Acute-stress-disorder. Updated July 19, 2018. Accessed August 30, 2018.

Adjustment disorder symptoms. Psych Central website. Available at: https://psychcentral.com/disorders/adjustment-disorder-symptoms. Updated August 24, 2017. Accessed August 30, 2018.

Adjustment disorders. Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/mental_health_disorders/adjustment_disorders_90,P01573. Accessed August 30, 2018.

Adjustment disorders. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric-disorders/anxiety-and-stressor-related-disorders/adjustment-disorders. Updated July 2018. Accessed August 30, 2018.

Last reviewed June 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD  Last Updated: 8/30/2018