The condition is different from anxiety disorder, which lacks the presence of a stressor, or post-traumatic stress disorder and acute stress disorder, which usually are associated with a more intense stressor.
Common characteristics of AD include mild depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, and traumatic stress symptoms or a combination of the three. There are nine types of AD listed in the DSM-III-R. According to the DSM-IV-TR, there are six types of AD, which are characterized by the following predominant symptoms: depressed mood, anxiety, mixed depression and anxiety, disturbance of conduct, mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct, and unspecified. However, the criteria for these symptoms are not specified in greater detail. AD may be acute or chronic, depending on whether it lasts more or less than six months. According to the DSM-IV-TR, if the AD lasts less than 6 months, then it may be considered acute. If it lasts more than six months, it may be considered chronic. Moreover, the symptoms cannot last longer than six months after the stressor(s), or its consequences, have terminated.:679 Diagnosis of AD is quite common; there is an estimated incidence of 5%–21% among psychiatric consultation services for adults. Adult women are diagnosed twice as often as are adult men. Among children and adolescents, girls and boys are equally likely to receive this diagnosis.:681 AD was introduced into the psychiatric classification systems almost 30 years ago, but similar syndromes were recognized for many years before that.
According to the DSM IV-TR, the development of the emotional or behavioral symptoms of this diagnosis have to occur within three months of the onset of the identifiable stressor(s). Some emotional signs of adjustment disorder are:
However, the stress-related disturbance does not only exist as an exacerbation of a pre-existing axis I or axis II disorder and cannot be diagnostic as axis 1 disorder.
Suicidal behavior is prominent among people with AD of all ages, and up to one-fifth of adolescent suicide victims may have an adjustment disorder. Bronish and Hecht (1989) found that 70% of a series of patients with AD attempted suicide immediately before their index admission and they remitted faster than a comparison group with major depression. Asnis et al. (1993) found that AD patients report persistent ideation or suicide attempts less frequently than those diagnosed with major depression. According to a study on 82 AD patients at a clinic, Bolu et al. (2012) found that 22 (26.8%) of these patients were admitted due to suicide attempt, consistent with previous findings. In addition, it was found that 15 of these 22 patients chose suicide methods that involved high chances of being saved. Henriksson et al. (2005) states statistically that the stressors are of one-half related to parental issues and one-third in peer issues.