Signs & Symptoms of Disruptive Behavior Disorder

Understanding Disruptive Behavior Disorder

Learn About Disruptive Behavior Disorder

Disruptive behavior disorders (DBD) are a group of behavioral disorders defined by ongoing patterns of hostile and defiant behaviors that children and adolescents direct towards any type of authority figure. While all children go through periods of testing limits by acting out in negative behaviors, children with DBD participate in these behaviors to such an extreme that it affects their everyday lives, as well as the lives of those around them.

The two most common forms of disruptive behavior disorders are oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and conduct disorder. Conduct disorder is characterized by persistent and repetitive behaviors that involve violating the basic rights of other human beings and severely breaking rules set to enforce age-appropriate societal norms. Oppositional defiant disorder is similar to conduct disorder but usually presents itself earlier in a child’s life. ODD is characterized by patterns of hostile, defiant, and disobedient behaviors directed at parents, teachers, and any other type of authority figure.

Early intervention and treatment for children and adolescents with disruptive behavior disorders is imperative in order to keep the behaviors from escalating into higher risk behaviors that have the potential to lead to more severe consequences.


Disruptive Behavior Disorder Statistics

Disruptive behavior disorders like ODD and conduct disorder are said to be the most common psychiatric conditions diagnosed in children worldwide. Studies have shown that conduct disorder affects 1-4% of adolescents in the United States and oppositional defiant disorder is estimated to develop in approximately 10.2% of children. The presence of DBD is also known to be more prevalent in boys than it is in girls.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Disruptive Behavior Disorder

The development of DBD is theorized to be the result of a variety of contributing factors, including genetic, physical, and environmental components. The following are examples of what these factors might include:

Genetic: Children with DBD typically have family members who also suffer from some form of mental illness, including mood disorders, personality disorders, and anxiety disorders. This indicates that there is most likely a genetic component that leads kids to become more susceptible to developing and portraying symptoms of DBD.

Physical: Imbalances in the brain’s frontal lobe have been hypothesized to affect the onset of DBD. The frontal lobe is responsible for regulating people’s emotions and is said to be the “home” of personality development. When neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain responsible for communication throughout the brain) are imbalanced, the result is an impairment in their ability to communicate properly. This communication dysfunction can lead to the onset of DBD symptoms.

Environmental: The environment that children grow up in can have an immense impact on whether or not they develop the behavioral patterns that define DBD. If children are surrounded by a chaotic home life, they may begin to act out simply because it allows them to have something that they can control since they have no power over the chaos around them. Similarly, children who are raised without any form of appropriate discipline or whose parents tend to be more absent than not can experience major impacts on the ways in which they begin to behave. Atypical mother-child interaction at the time of birth has also been theorized to have an effect on the onset of DBD.

Risk Factors:

  • Exposure to violence
  • Family history of mental illness or substance abuse
  • Familial discord
  • Suffering from abuse and/or neglect
  • Being male
  • Poor or inconsistent parenting / lack of parental involvement
  • Dysfunctional home life

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Disruptive Behavior Disorder

The symptoms of disruptive behavior disorders will vary based on the age of the child and the type of behavioral disorder that he or she has. Children’s temperament, social skills, and coping mechanisms will also affect the severity of the symptoms. The following are some common examples of symptoms that people with DBD may exhibit:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Social isolation
  • Bullying
  • Revenge-seeking behaviors
  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Willful destruction of property
  • Blaming others
  • Actively defying or refusing to comply with rules
  • Being cruel to animals
  • Playing with fire

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Frequent frustration
  • Memory impairment
  • Inability to “think before speaking”
  • Lack of problem-solving skills

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Lack of empathy
  • Lack of remorse
  • False sense of grandiosity
  • Persistent negativity
  • Chronic annoyance and irritability
  • Low self-esteem


Effects of Disruptive Behavior Disorder

If children do not receive proper treatment interventions, the effects of DBD can be long-lasting and can, in some cases, lead to the development of antisocial personality disorder. Some examples of the long-term effects that untreated DBD can have on a person include:

  • Criminal involvement
  • Incarceration
  • Substance abuse
  • Risky sexual behaviors
  • Inability to develop and maintain healthy, meaningful relationships
  • Social isolation

Co-Occurring Disorders

Disruptive Behavior Disorder and Co-Occurring Disorders

Disruptive behavior disorders can co-exist with other mental illnesses. The most common illnesses known to co-exist with DBD include:

  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Substance abuse disorders
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