Signs, Symptoms, and Effects of Teen Conduct Disorder

Understanding Teen Conduct Disorder

Learn More About Teen Conduct Disorder

According to The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition, conduct disorder is classified by specific behaviors that are aggressive and/or violate age-appropriate rules and societal norms. These behaviors are broken down into four categories including:

  • Aggressive conduct that causes or threatens physical harm to other people or animals
  • Deceitfulness or theft
  • Serious violations of rules
  • Non-aggressive conduct that causes property loss or damage

While conduct disorder can be present in adults, the condition is typically diagnosed in individuals under the age of 16. Teens who have been diagnosed with conduct disorder will display behaviors which are more severe than those associated with more typical and culturally-appropriate teenage rebelliousness and boundary-testing. Rather, a young person with conduct disorder will knowingly engage in behaviors from the above categories, perhaps focusing on one type more so than the others. These aggressive tendencies and rule violations will likely result in problems at school and, before long, interactions with law enforcement.

Without getting the appropriate help, teens suffering from conduct disorder will continue to have problems at home and school that will continue to worsen as they enter adulthood. But with the proper care, teens with conduct disorder and other co-occurring mental help conditions can learn the skills they need to manage their emotions and regulate their behaviors.


Statistics of Conduct Disorder in Teens

Studies estimate that between 2% and 16% of children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with conduct disorder. However, it is more commonly diagnosed in boys than in girls and most often occurs late in adolescence or during the early teen years.

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors for Conduct Disorder in Teens

As more research has been conducted in the realm of mental and behavioral health, there have been some causes and risk factors that have shown to put one at an increased risk for developing conduct disorder, some of which are described below:

Genetic: Conduct order is composed of a series of traits that in some instances are considered to be heritable. Therefore, having a first degree relative who also espouses aggressive behavior or other signs of conduct disorder might put a young person at increased risk for developing the condition

Environment: Being raised in an environment where aggression is common and a disregard for rules is normalized might encourage similar behaviors in a teen, perhaps making it more likely that he or she will be diagnosed with conduct disorder when he or she gets older.

Risk Factors:

  • Experiencing a frequent change in caregivers
  • Being male
  • Parental history of criminal involvement
  • Being the victim of abuse or neglect
  • Early institutional living
  • Having a family history of substance use disorders

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Teen Conduct Disorder

Without prior experience with mental illness, it may be difficult to identify symptoms of conduct disorder in a teen you care about. It is recommended that you familiarize yourself with the condition by reviewing some of the signs of conduct disorder which are listed below:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Steals
  • Has forced someone into unwanted sexual activity
  • Initiates physical fights
  • Bullies, threatens, or intimidates others
  • Lies
  • Destroys property
  • Has used a weapon to cause physical harm
  • School refusal or truancy
  • Has been physically cruel to people or animals
  • Sets fires

Physical symptoms:

  • Sexually transmitted diseases from engaging in risky sexual behaviors
  • Injuries obtained from physical altercations
  • Burns from playing with fire

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor concentration capabilities
  • Poor impulse control
  • Having an intellect that is below average

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Lack of patience
  • Lacks a sense of guilt
  • Excessive agitation and irritability
  • Possesses a false sense of grandiosity
  • Lacks remorse
  • Lacks empathy


Effects of Teen Conduct Disorder

Given the severity of the behaviors associated with conduct disorder, teens who struggle with the condition will be unable to function in the public school setting without intervention, and will have compromised relationships with family and loved ones. There are many ways that conduct disorder can negatively impact a teen’s life, some of which are described below:

  • Problems in work adjustment
  • Job loss / chronic unemployment
  • Financial hardships
  • Onset of symptoms synonymous with other mental illnesses
  • Relationship problems
  • Discord within the family
  • Legal difficulties
  • Physical injuries as a result of acting out or aggressive behaviors
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • School suspension or expulsion
  • Academic failure
  • Contraction of sexually transmitted diseases or experiencing an unplanned pregnancy due to engaging in risky sexual behavior

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders & the Complexity of Teen Conduct Disorder

It is not unusual for a teen with conduct disorder to also be diagnosed with additional mental health conditions, and there are certain disorders which are found to be often co-occurring, including the following:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Specific learning disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Oppositional defiant 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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