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What is Adjustment Disorder?

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

September 20, 2022 (Originally Published)

February 1, 2024 (Last Updated)

Table of Contents

If you have been wondering “What are adjustment disorders”, these are stress-related mental health conditions. An adjustment disorder is associated with an unexpected or stressful event that triggers significant problems in your personal and professional lives. Examples of events leading to an adjustment disorder developing include:

  • Death of a loved one.
  • Problems at work.
  • Going away to school.
  • Moving to a new area.
  • Losing your job.

For most people, it is possible to process major life changes like these in a matter of months. Those with adjustment disorders, though, will continue to experience behavioral and emotional reactions in response to the event. These ongoing feelings can prompt episodes of anxiety or depression.

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Research shows that between 2% and 20% of those attending psychiatric outpatient treatment could be diagnosed with adjustment disorder.

Adjustment disorder can present at any stage in life. Females are twice as likely as males to develop an adjustment disorder.

Fortunately, short-term treatment typically produces favorable outcomes, helping you to recalibrate your life in the wake of a stressful event.

What is adjustment disorder more specifically, then?

What is an Adjustment Disorder?

Adjustment disorder is also known as situational depression. The condition is short-term and diagnosed in those who experience exaggerated responses to traumas or stressors.

The stressors that trigger adjustment disorders may be isolated events (a messy break-up) or multiple events (spiraling professional problems or ongoing financial issues. The stressors may impact individuals, families, or whole groups – survivors of natural disasters, for example. Some stressors recur – seasonal business constraints – while others may be milestone events (going to school, marrying, and retiring).

The presentation of an adjustment disorder will depend on the type of disorder – more on this below. Signs and symptoms will also vary from person to person. Regardless of the presentation, you will experience abnormal stress in response to an event, stress that provokes disruption at home, work, or school.

If you develop an adjustment disorder, this will influence how you think and feel about yourself and the world in general. Often, adjustment disorders trigger behavioral changes.

Some of the most reported symptoms associated with adjustment disorders include:

  • Appetite loss
  • Problems with focus
  • Persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Reduced interest in favored activities
  • Frequent bouts of crying
  • Disrupted daily functioning
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling worried or stressed
  • Insomnia
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Social withdrawal
  • Avoidance behaviors
  • Suicidal ideation

The symptoms of adjustment disorders present within three months of the stressor and persist for no more than six months after the end of the stressor. In some cases, chronic adjustment disorders may persist for longer than six months, especially in the event of ongoing stressors like unemployment.

You should consult your healthcare provider if you continue to experience symptoms after a stressful event, particularly when this impacts your daily functioning.

Diagnosis of an adjustment disorder hinges on identifying the stressor, your symptoms, and the way in which they disrupt your functioning. A doctor will ask you about your medical and mental health history. Typically, mental health professionals diagnose adjustment disorders using the criteria outlined in DSM-5-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Adjustment disorder DSM 5 criteria are as follows:

  1. Behavioral or emotional symptoms present within three months of a life event or stressor.
  2. In response to this, you experience disproportionate stress. The stress provokes problems at home, school, or work.
  3. Symptoms are not better explained by another mental health condition or as part of the normal grieving process.

WHO (World Health Organization) classifies adjustment disorders ICD-10 as F43.2. WHO groups adjustment disorders with mental, behavioral, and neurodevelopmental disorders.

DSM lists six types of adjustment disorders. These are interrelated but trigger distinct signs and symptoms.

  1. Adjustment disorder and anxiety: Symptoms typically include frequent crying, hopelessness, and anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure from everyday activities).
  2. Adjustment disorder and depressed mood: This type of adjustment disorder is characterized by worrying, nervousness, feelings of overwhelm, and difficulty with concentration and focus. In children, this type of disorder is often associated with a fear of being separated from their parents or guardians.
  3. Adjustment disorder and combination of  anxiety and depressed mood: This type of disorder involves mixed symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  4. Adjustment disorder and disturbed conduct: Behavioral problems like vandalism, reckless driving, and fighting often manifest with this type of this disorder.
  5. Adjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of conduct and emotions: Symptoms of depression and anxiety present alongside behavioral problems.
  6. Unspecified adjustment disorder: Symptoms are different from those of the above disorders, often including problems with friends and family, problems at work, and physical problems.

What is adjustment disorder with anxiety, then?

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Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety

Adjustment disorder with anxiety is one of the most common types characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Persistent worrying
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Catastrophizing (always fearing the worst)
  • Problems with focus
  • Separation anxiety in children

Most people diagnosed with this disorder with anxiety find that a brief course of outpatient therapy is sufficient to kickstart their full recovery. Those with chronic adjustment disorders triggers by ongoing stressors may benefit from more robust and continuous treatment.

Most adjustment disorders respond positively to treatment with medications, psychotherapy, or a combination of both interventions.

The benefits of engaging with therapy for an adjustment disorder include:

  • Discovering why the stressor impacted you so intensely.
  • Getting valuable emotional support.
  • Re-establishing your regular routine.
  • Learning coping mechanisms and stress-management techniques.
  • Mitigating the symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood

If you are diagnosed with adjustment disorder with depression, you will experience persistent feelings of sadness, helplessness, and hopelessness that persist long after the stressful event is concluded.

Many people with this type of adjustment disorder report crying inappropriately.

Anhedonia (a loss of interest in favored activities) is central to this form of adjustment disorder.

Treatment for this disorder with depression usually involves short-term psychotherapy and ongoing treatment with antidepressants.

We can help you fight back against all types of adjustment disorders here at Renaissance.

Mental Health Treatment at Renaissance Recovery

At Renaissance Recovery, we specialize in the outpatient treatment of mental health conditions and addictions. Outpatient programming is more affordable and less restrictive than residential rehab while still delivering favorable outcomes.

Choose from the following programs at a level of intensity that suits your needs:

For those with mental health disorders co-occurring with alcoholism or drug addiction, our dual diagnosis treatment programs deliver coordinated and integrated treatment of both aggravating conditions.

Take advantage of the following holistic and evidence-based therapies at our luxury Orange County facility:

When you complete your mental health treatment program at Renaissance, your treatment team will ensure you have a robust aftercare plan in place.

Don’t let anxiety, depression, or any other mental health condition prevent you from living the life you want to live. Reach out to Renaissance today at 866.330.9449.

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At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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