What is an adaptation disorder?

Major changes in life, such as the death of a loved one or moving to a new city, can cause stress. Most people will adapt to these changes within a few months.

However, for some people, the pressure of coping with these changes can be overwhelming and disrupt their lives.

When these feelings last longer than usual, this may be a sign of adjustment disorder.

Symptoms of adjustment disorder

Adjustment disorders are classified according to the type of reaction they cause. There are six subtypes of adaptation disorders listed in DSM-5. Each is based on the type of main symptoms experienced.

  • Adaptation disorders for depression: depression, tears, and despair.
  • An adjustment disorder accompanied by anxiety: nervousness, worry, nervousness, and fear of being separated from the caregiver.
  • Adjustment disorder of mixed anxiety and depression: a combination of the above symptoms.
  • Behavioral obstacles to adaptation obstacles: Violation of the rights of others, violation of social norms and rules.
  • Adjustment disorder of mixed mood and behavior disorder: There is a combination of symptoms of all the above subtypes (low mood, anxiety, and behavior).
  • Unspecified adaptation disorder: The response to stressful events does not fit any of the above subtypes. Reactions may include behaviors such as social withdrawal.

Symptoms may vary depending on the age of the person experiencing the condition. Children and adolescents are more likely to show behavioral symptoms, such as school problems or poor performance. On the other hand, adults tend to experience more emotional symptoms.

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Experts have not yet determined the specific reasons a person may have an adaptation disorder, but certain factors can increase your risk of developing this disease.

Adaptation disorders can occur at any age, but they are especially common in children. Any stress event or a series of situations can trigger this situation. Common stressors in adults include:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Divorce or relationship issues
  • Financial difficulties
  • marry
  • Give birth
  • Illness or other health problems of oneself or a loved one
  • Live in a neighborhood with a high crime rate
  • unemployment
  • Move to a new place
  • natural disaster
  • retire

Some stressors that may cause adjustment difficulties in children and adolescents include:

  • A new brother or sister
  • Death of pets
  • Parents divorced or separated
  • Enter a new school or leave school
  • Leaving home for the first time
  • Sexual issues (such as uncertainty related to sexual orientation)

As you can see, the source of stress can be a single event (relationship termination) or multiple events (relationship problems), and can be continuous (living in an insecure community) or recurring (seeing an ex on vacation).


The diagnosis of adjustment disorder is usually made by a mental health professional (such as a psychologist or psychiatrist) after a comprehensive psychological evaluation. The assessment includes detailed personal development history, life events, emotions, behaviors, and identified stressful events.

To be diagnosed with an adaptation disorder, your symptoms must have “clinical significance.” According to DSM-5, this means that you must meet one or both of the following criteria:

  • Your pain is out of proportion to the expected response
  • Your symptoms must seriously impair your personal life, social function, or work/school performance and/or attendance.
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In addition, to diagnose:

  • Your symptoms must begin to appear within three months of the onset of the stressor.
  • Your pain and disorder do not meet the criteria for another disease (such as post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD), nor are they the result of an existing mental health disorder.
  • Your reaction is not part of the normal bereavement.
  • After the stressor is eliminated, your symptoms will subside within six months.

Adaptation disorder is often difficult to diagnose because it shares symptoms with other mental health disorders

Adaptation Disorder Treatment

The main goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms and help you return to a level of function similar to that before the stressful event.


Adaptation disorders are highly treatable and usually respond well to psychotherapy. Regardless of the source of stress, treatment will help you understand how and why the source of stress affects your life. Treatment will also help you develop better coping skills and stress management to deal with stressful events.

The form of psychotherapy varies from patient to patient. Due to the transient nature of adjustment disorders, short-term psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), is usually the first choice.

Some people may also benefit from family therapy, especially if the situation is family-related or the patient is a teenager. If the illness has a negative impact on the relationship, couples therapy may be ideal.

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Although psychotherapy is the first-line treatment for adjustment disorders, some medications are sometimes prescribed to relieve annoying symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia.


When dealing with adaptation barriers, keep in mind the following tips.

  • Avoid unnecessary stress. Stress is sometimes inevitable. Although you may not be able to avoid all stressful situations, anything you can do to reduce stress is helpful. For example, if your life is about to undergo major changes, do not take on additional responsibilities, which will make you more anxious.
  • Join a support group. Sometimes, it helps to share your anxiety with someone who has experienced a similar situation. From divorce to the loss of a loved one, the support group will deal with all kinds of stressors.
  • Rely on your support system. In times of stress, it is invaluable to have someone you trust listens without judgment or humiliation. Tell friends and family that you feel overwhelmed and let them know how they can help you.

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Everyone experiences stress from time to time, but some situations may be more difficult to deal with than others. If you have recently experienced a disturbing event and stress is interfering with your daily life, please talk to your doctor or contact a mental health professional as soon as possible. This is the first step to get you back on track and enjoy life to the full.