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Adjustment Disorder

What is Adjustment Disorder? 

A recent and possibly even normal event can have an excessively negative effect. Adjustment disorder is marked by anxiety, reckless behavior, and a difficulty in "getting over it."


Adjustment Disorder is an abnormal and excessive reaction to an identifiable life stressor. The reaction is more severe than would normally be expected, and can result in significant impairment in social, occupational or academic functioning. 


The response may be linked to a single event (a flood or fire, marriage, divorce, starting school, new job) or multiple events (marital problems or severe business difficulties). Stressors may be recurrent events (child witnessing parents constantly fighting, chemotherapy, financial difficulties) or continuous fear (living in a crime-ridden neighborhood).


Adjustment Disorder often occurs with one or more of the following: depressed mood; anxiety, disturbance of conduct (in which the patient violates rights of others or major age-appropriate societal norms or rules), and maladaptive reactions (problems related to job or school, physical complaints, social isolation).


  • Depressed mood

  • Impaired occupational/social functioning

  • Agitation

  • Trembling or twitching

  • Physical complaints (e.g. general aches and pains, stomachache, headache, chest pain)

  • Palpitations

  • Conduct disturbances (e.g. truancy, vandalism, reckless driving or fighting) 

  • Withdrawal


Note: Symptoms may vary widely. The person may or may not be aware of the stressor causing the disturbance.


Diagnosis depends on the following:​


The reaction clearly follows a life stressor. Within three months of stressor onset, emotional and behavioral symptoms develop in response to stressor


Symptoms seem excessive compared to what would normally be expected in relation to stressor and/or, symptoms significantly impair occupational, school or social functioning


  • Symptoms are not explained by another diagnosis

  • Symptoms are not part of bereavement 

  • Symptoms do not last longer than six months after end of stressor

  • The diagnosis may be acute (symptoms last less than six months) or chronic (symptoms last six months or longer as when stressors are chronic or have lasting effects)

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