Signs & Symptoms of Conduct Disorder

Understanding Conduct Disorder

Learn About Conduct Disorder

Conduct disorder is a childhood disorder that is characterized by repetitive and persistent patterns of behavior that involve violating the basic rights of other human beings and/or severely breaking the rules set by age-appropriate societal norms. Children and adolescents with conduct disorder participate in severely negative behavioral patterns in a variety of settings, including home, school, and in social situations. These behaviors will also cause significant impairment in all aspects of the adolescent’s life, including his or her social life, family life, and academic life. Children who are thought to have conduct disorder should seek medical treatment for proper diagnosis and care.


Conduct Disorder Statistics

Conduct disorder has been said to be the most common psychiatric problem diagnosed in children worldwide. Studies have shown that conduct disorder affects 1-4% of adolescents ages 9-17 in the United States alone. The disorder is more prominently diagnosed in boys and tends to be more prevalent in urban areas as opposed to rural areas.

It has been estimated that approximately 40% of children who are diagnosed with conduct disorder will grow up to have characteristics and/or diagnoses of antisocial personality disorder.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Conduct Disorder

The development of conduct disorder is said to be the result of a combination of factors, including genetic, physical, and environmental components. Some examples of these factors may include:

Genetic: Personality traits are commonly inherited from family members, so the components that make up conduct disorder may have genetic influences.

Physical: Impairments in the frontal lobe of the brain have been linked to the development of conduct disorder, due to the fact that the frontal lobe is responsible for regulating one’s emotions. The frontal lobe is also said to be “home” to one’s personality. So if there exists any kind of impairment or imbalance in that part of the brain, the more likely a person will be to become susceptible to developing the symptoms of conduct disorder.

Environmental: Parental behavior is argued to be a large component in determining whether or not a child will develop symptoms of conduct disorder. Children who are raised without any form of appropriate discipline or whose parents tend to be absent more than they are present can experience a resulting impact on the behaviors that they exhibit. Atypical child interaction with a mother who suffers from post-partum depression can potentially have lasting effects on a child’s future behaviors as well.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Living in a city as a opposed to a rural area
  • Having other psychiatric disorders
  • Poor nutrition
  • Living in poverty
  • Maternal psychopathology
  • Poor parenting / lack of parental involvement
  • Lack of appropriate methods of discipline
  • Exposure to violence
  • Having been subjected to physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Conduct Disorder

Some examples of signs and symptoms that may be indicative that a child is suffering from conduct disorder can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Stealing
  • Skipping school
  • Harming animals
  • Bullying others
  • Destroying the property of others
  • Running away from home
  • Instigating violent, physical fights
  • Persistent lying
  • Forcing someone into sexual activity against the person’s will

Physical symptoms:

  • Bodily marks resulting from injuries after the instigation of a physical fight (e.g. bruises, scrapes, black eyes, etc.)
  • Presence of sexually transmitted diseases as a result of beginning unsafe sexual behaviors at an early age
  • Burn marks as a result of fire-setting behaviors

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory impairment
  • Inability to “think things through”

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Lack of empathy
  • Lack of a sense of guilt
  • Lack of remorse
  • False sense of grandiosity
  • Low self-esteem


Effects of Conduct Disorder

The effects of conduct disorder, if left untreated, can range from mild to severe. Some such effects can include:

  • Ongoing risky sexual behaviors
  • Delinquency
  • Chronic substance abuse
  • Arrests
  • Serving jail time
  • Future onset of antisocial personality disorder

Co-Occurring Disorders

Conduct Disorder and Co-Occurring Disorders

Conduct disorders can exist alongside other mental disorders, including:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Other personality disorders
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