Conduct Disorder

What Is Conduct Disorder?

Conduct disorder is an antisocial behavioral disorder in children and adolescents. Young people with this condition tend toward disruptive and violent behavior, including rule breaking, backtalk, lying, petty theft, bullying, and fighting. Conduct disorder is often a precursor to antisocial personality disorder, the diagnosis for which is limited to persons 18 years or older, but is partly dependent on the recognition of an earlier pattern of socially troubled development. All children misbehave on occasion but individuals with conduct disorder show a persistent inability to respect the rights, feelings, and personal boundaries of others. Conduct disorder is associated with other psychological issues as well, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and various mood and anxiety disorders.

Boys suffer from a greater prevalence of conduct disorder than girls. If your child is showing antisocial tendencies or giving indications of conduct disorder, the psychiatric specialists at Baptist Health may be able to help.

What Are Conduct Disorder Symptoms?

Symptoms of conduct disorder are typically placed in four categories:

Aggressive Behavior

  • Bullying
  • Fighting
  • Mistreatment of pets or animals
  • Weapon use
  • Sexual crimes

Destructive Behavior

  • Disregard for the property of others
  • Vandalism
  • Arson

Untruthful or Deceitful Behavior

  • Lying
  • Petty theft
  • Forgery

Rule Violations

  • Truancy from school or work
  • Running away from home
  • Tobacco, alcohol, and substance abuse
  • Premature sexual behavior

Symptoms of conduct disorder can appear early in childhood or later in adolescence. They can also be categorized as mild, moderate, and severe. Mild symptoms may not require professional treatment; moderate and severe symptoms do.

Young people with conduct disorder often have other challenges with which they’re dealing. Related conditions include ADHD, learning disabilities, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and posttraumatic stress disorder.

What Causes Conduct Disorder?

Researchers have yet to determine the precise cause of conduct disorder but it likely includes a variety of biological, genetic, and environmental factors:

  • Genetics: Young people with conduct disorder often have family members with mental-health issues, including personality, mood, and anxiety disorders, as well as substance abuse problems.
  • Biology: There is some evidence that damage to the brain’s frontal lobe may play a role in conduct disorder. The frontal lobe is responsible for important cognitive skills, which increase a person’s ability to think long term and successfully interact with other persons in a social context.
  • Psychology: Children with conduct disorder seem to have a deficient moral compass, lacking a sense of guilt or remorse over wrongdoing or inflicting injury on others.
  • Environment: Conduct disorder is common among children growing up in violent or dysfunctional families. Traumatic experiences, abusive or neglectful parents, and chaotic living conditions can all contribute to antisocial behavior in young people. 
  • Social status: Children from lower socioeconomic households are more likely to develop conduct disorder than those growing up in more affluent surroundings.

How Is Conduct Disorder Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of conduct disorder is made by a child psychologist or other qualified mental-health provider. This typically occurs after a medical evaluation rules out the possibility of a physiological basis for problematic behavior. The psychologist will want to speak with the child and perhaps spend time observing the latter’s behavior. Additionally, the psychologist will want to interview the child’s parents, family members, and teachers, as appropriate. The child’s diagnosis will be based on these interviews and any documented antisocial behaviors recognized as contributing to conduct disorder.

How Is Conduct Disorder Treated?

The treatment of conduct disorder is primarily conducted by means of psychotherapy. Possible approaches include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a pragmatic approach to psychotherapy that identifies certain issues in daily living associated with a particular condition, and provides patients with the tools to confront them. It does this by altering the way they think about them, which leads to changes in emotional responses and behaviors.
  • Family therapy: Family therapy teaches close relatives new ways of interacting with a troubled child, reinforcing the lessons he or she is learning in other therapeutic settings.
  • Peer group therapy: A peer group allows a young person to work on social interactions with people close to his or her own age and interests.

Medications are rarely prescribed specifically for conduct disorder but are sometimes used to treat other conditions associated with juvenile antisocial behavior. For example, children with ADHD often receive stimulant or antidepressant medications.

The outlook for children and young people with conduct disorder is varied, depending on timing, severity, home environment, related medical conditions, and so forth. The sooner a correct diagnosis is made, the more likely appropriate treatments can have a positive effect.

Can Conduct Disorder be Prevented?

There is no formula for preventing conduct disorder but the early recognition and treatment of antisocial tendencies can improve a young person’s prospects. Certainly any child can benefit from living in a loving but structured environment, to the extent that circumstances make that possible.

Learn More About Conduct Disorder from Baptist Health

Having a child with conduct disorder is a difficult thing to face. Just remember: the caring providers at Baptist Health are on your side. If you’re looking for treatment options or more information about ASPD, please contact a behavioral health provider with Baptist Health today.

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