Signs & Symptoms of Adjustment Disorders in Adolescents

Understanding Adjustment Disorders

Learn about adjustment disorder

Adjustment disorder is a category of trauma- or stressor-related mental health disorders. An individual may develop adjustment disorder as a result of a traumatic, stressful or life-changing event. Someone with adjustment disorder is typically unable to adjust to life changes, such as the loss of a job or even a new job, the loss of a friend, a relationship break-up, a physical injury, the death of a family member, or the loss of a hobby, activity, or routine. While adjustment disorder can affect all ages and stages of life, adolescents are most susceptible to an adjustment disorder after the loss of a parent or guardian; when a sibling goes off to college; when a friendship changes; or with the transition from one school or grade to the next.

Those with adjustment disorder are characteristically unable to respond to life changes in a healthy way or might possess a rigid desire to repeat history. People who live with adjustment disorder often express the wish to go back to “the way things were.” Those with adjustment disorder usually exhibit symptoms of anxiety and nervousness, separation anxiety and attachment issues, panic, depression, and/or the inability to complete daily activities in school, work, relationships or hobbies.

While everyone varies in flexibility and the ability to adapt to change, both the duration and intensity of your child’s ability to adjust to life changes will determine whether your child is experiencing adjustment disorder. Adjustment disorder is a failure to move on after an extended period of time, and an individual’s reaction to life changes is often out proportion to the changes themselves. Perhaps most of all, adjustment disorder is known for its negative impact on a child’s daily functioning.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of adjustment disorder

Certain signs and symptoms accompany adjustment disorder. While people who experience life changes might exhibit some of the following signs and symptoms, the duration of these symptoms is usually limited. But someone with adjustment disorder may display these symptoms for a longer period of time, especially after the triggering life change or event. The symptoms of adjustment disorder can be behavioral, physical, and mental. As a parent, it’s important to be on the lookout for these signs and symptoms in your child’s daily life:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Excessive attachment or “clinginess” to loved ones
  • Regular crying spells
  • Acting nervous or jittery
  • Getting easily distracted
  • Mood swings based upon the actions or inactions of others
  • Withdrawal or isolation from family and friends
  • Neglecting important responsibilities (such as at work or school)
  • Self-harm

Physical symptoms:

  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • No appetite or excessive appetite

Mental symptoms:

  • Anxiety or nervousness, especially when a loved one leaves (separation anxiety)
  • Panic
  • Sorrow
  • Distress
  • Depression
  • Thoughts of suicide


Effects of adjustment disorder

Short-Term Effects: Although adjustment disorder is often triggered by a traumatic event or stressful life change, if left untreated, the person living with adjustment disorder may experience short-term effects. The following short-term effects of untreated adjustment disorder include, but are not limited to:

  • Strained relationships
  • Social isolation and/or feelings of loneliness
  • Hindered academic performance
  • Poor performance at work
  • Financial difficulties
  • Poor physical health
  • Job loss
  • Self-harm
  • Thoughts of suicide

Long-Term Effects: The sooner your child gets treatment for adjustment disorder, the more minimal the short-term effects might be. But if further left untreated, those with adjustment disorder may experience more long-term, or chronic, effects, such as:

  • Relationship loss
  • Unemployment
  • Medical problems
  • Financial debt
  • Academic failure
  • School expulsion
  • Legal consequences
  • Self-harm
  • Suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

Adjustment disorder and co-occurring disorders

It is not uncommon for someone with adjustment disorder to have a co-occurring disorder, or another mental illness, alongside their current one. Some common co-occurring disorders of adjustment disorder include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Substance use disorder (addiction)

Because of stressful or triggering changes or events, your child may not be able to adjust accordingly to life’s many ebbs and flows. Adjustment disorder can prove highly disruptive to your child’s life, as it can impact their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. With adjustment disorder, your child’s behavior may change in order to adjust or accommodate to any confusing changes in their life. It’s important that you seek treatment at the onset of the signs and symptoms of adjustment disorder to potentially limit any decline in performance at school or happiness at home.

Through inpatient treatment at Southstone Behavioral Health in South Boston, Virginia, change is possible. The compassionate and competent staff at Southstone Behavioral Health can help your child healthily adjust to any life changes or traumatic events they may encounter. At Southstone Behavioral Health, your child will be equipped with the necessary coping strategies and life skills to adapt to life’s never-ending changes.