Signs, Symptoms, and Effects of Conduct Disorder

Understanding Conduct Disorder

Learn More About Conduct Disorder

Conduct disorder, a disruptive behavioral disorder, is a psychiatric diagnosis that can begin in adolescence, but can continue to impact individuals long into adulthood. This mental health disorder is characterized by a long-standing pattern of violation of social rules and antisocial behaviors that have existed in an individual for at least six months. Individuals with conduct disorder are often impulsive, difficult to control, and are not concerned with the feelings of others. They usually make no effort to hide their behaviors and may face challenges in maintaining close relationships. Individuals who have conduct disorder do not appear to have moral awareness, and may lack a sense of guilt, empathy, and remorse for the damage they inflict upon others.

Treatment for conduct disorder is based upon a number of factors, notably the adolescent’s age, the severity of his or her symptom, and the adolescent’s ability to participate in, and tolerate, certain types of therapies.


Statistics of Conduct Disorder

One year estimates of the prevalence of conduct disorder are said to be from 2% to over 10% with a median of 4% prevalence rates. These rates are also reported as higher among males than they are in females.

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors for Conduct Disorder

The precise cause for conduct disorder is unknown; researchers in the field believe that a combination of genetic, physical, and environmental risk factors work in tandem to cause this disorder to develop. The most commonly cited causes and risk factors for conduct disorder include:

Genetic: Many individuals who have conduct disorder have relatives who have a mental illness such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, and personality disorders. This indicates a genetic predisposition for conduct disorder.

Environmental: There are a number of environmental stressors that may contribute to the development of conduct disorder. These may include inconsistent parenting and discipline during childhood and adolescence, a dysfunctional home life, and a family history of substance abuse.

Risk Factors:

  • Childhood abuse or neglect
  • Parental rejection
  • Being placed in an institutional living situation early in life
  • Frequent changes in caregivers
  • Exposure to violence
  • Association with a delinquent peer group
  • Being male
  • Injuries to the brain
  • Deficits in cognitive processing
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Not being accepted by peers
  • Lower-than-average IQ

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Conduct Disorder

Conduct disorder is characterized by a persistent, repetitive pattern of behaviors in which the basic rights of others or major age-appropriate social norms are violated. These symptoms cause significant impairment in one’s academic, occupational, and social functioning.

The behaviors exhibited by a person with conduct disorder fall into four main categories:

Aggression to people or animals:

  • Frequently bullies, threatens, or intimidates others
  • Often begins physical assaults on others
  • Has used a weapon, such as a bat, brick, knife, or gun, that can lead to serious physical harm to others
  • Physical cruelty toward people
  • Physical cruelty toward animals
  • Has stolen items while confronting a victim
  • Has forced someone into unwanted sexual activity

Destruction of property:

  • Intentionally engaged in fire-starting with the deliberate purpose of causing serious damage
  • Vandalizing property
  • Has deliberately destroyed the belongings or property of other people

Deceitfulness or theft:

  • Cons other people
  • Frequently lies to obtain items, favors, or as an attempt to avoid obligations
  • Has broken into homes, buildings, or cars
  • Criminal activity

Serious violation of rules:

  • A pattern of truancy at school that begins before the age of 13
  • Often breaks the rules without clear reason
  • Has run away from home overnight
  • Sexual activity at a very young age


Effects of Conduct Disorder

The effects and consequences of conduct disorder can vary among individuals based upon a number of factors including age, any treatment that has been administered, the severity of symptoms, and any existing co-occurring disorders. The most common consequences of conduct disorder include:

  • Adult development of antisocial personality disorder
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Development of depression
  • Development of anxiety disorders
  • Legal problems
  • Injuries to self or others related to violent behaviors
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Incarceration
  • Suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders & the Complexity of Conduct Disorder

Rarely does conduct disorder occur on its own; generally, individuals with conduct disorder have a co-occurring mental health diagnoses. The most common co-occurring disorders include:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Learning disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
Our Client Experience

We are so glad we found Greenleaf! They helped our family learn how to support our son in the right way to cope with his disorder.

– Theo
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