Causes & Effects of Adjustment Disorder

Dramatic life changes can include a number of different occurrences, including (however not limited to) migrating to another country, losing possessions due to a natural disaster, death of a loved one, job changes, or family changes. Whatever the case may be, the changes that occurred might cause a toll in one’s life and overall wellbeing, which could lead to the onset of adjustment disorder.

An adjustment disorder is described by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition as a common mental illness that develops within three months after an individual suffers a stressful situation. It might begin as soon as the stressful event occurs, or even within a few months of the occurrence.

The symptoms of adjustment disorders can pose severe and marked distress that is neither culturally or personally normal. This could also lead to impairment in one’s family life, social life, or work life. Thankfully, these symptoms often disappear or become less significant within six months, especially if the individual is not being continuously exposed to new stressors.

While the symptoms of adjustment disorder are occurring, the individual might feel very depressed, anxious, or uncomfortable. The individual might also display unhealthy or strange behaviors that are not typical of him or her. Fortunately, however, there is adjustment disorder treatment available.

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Statistics

Adjustment disorder is one of the most common mental health conditions that impact people of all ages. This condition also accounts for nearly 20% of all outpatient mental health support visits and 50% of inpatient settings (overnight settings).

Causes and Risk Factors for Adjustment Disorder

Adjustment disorder occurs when an individual experiences a chronic or repeated stressful trauma that increases their risk of developing this condition. The person might react with emotional and behavioral responses that lead to difficulty in everyday life. Aside from this fact, other risk factors that can increase one’s likelihood of becoming diagnosed with adjustment disorders can include:

  • Community violence or crime
  • Natural disasters such as a fire, storm, or flood
  • Diagnosis of a serious or chronic illness
  • End of a romantic relationship
  • Becoming a new parent, or losing a child
  • Retirement or any major life changes
  • Business losses or difficulties
  • Problems with school or work
  • Drastic shifts in living or occupational goals
  • Conflict in marriage or other relationships

Signs and Symptoms of Adjustment Disorder

The effects of this disorder can vary from individual to individual. The type of event that led to the development of symptoms, the individual’s personality, one’s support network, and the person’s overall lifestyle can have an impact on the type and severity of the symptoms that develop. Some of the various symptoms of adjustment disorder can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Refusal to participate in previously enjoyed activities
  • Neglect of daily responsibilities
  • Crying or tearfulness
  • Isolating oneself from friends or family
  • Skipping work, school, or other important events
  • Suicide attempts
  • Aggression
  • Decline in work or school performance

Physical symptoms:

  • Body tension or experiencing an inability to relax
  • Chest pains or pounding heartbeat at times
  • Body pains such as headache and stomachache
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Lapses in sound judgment
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Lack of concentration when completing tasks
  • Inability to make good decisions
  • Difficulty retaining information or recalling memories
  • Forgetfulness or losing items

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Feeling hopeless
  • Excessive feelings of dread, worry, or concern
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Sudden mood changes
  • Nervousness or jumpiness
  • Unstable emotions
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Adjustment Disorder

Typically, adjustment disorder symptoms will not last for longer than six months. However, there are situations that might prolong this condition and cause it to last longer than six months because of the presence of continued stressors or traumas. In many instances, these symptoms can be hard to manage and cause unfortunate outcomes. Without proper attention and care, adjustment disorder can lead to:

  • Job termination
  • Financial difficulties
  • Onset of symptoms of other mental health disorders
  • Difficulties within or a loss of interpersonal relationships
  • Lower performance at work or school
  • Lowered social contact
  • Unpredictable mood swings
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Substance use or abuse

Co-Occurring Disorders

Adjustment disorder can occur alongside other mental health conditions. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), some such possible co-occurring disorders can include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Specific phobias
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Panic disorder
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