Signs & Symptoms of Conduct Disorder

Conduct disorder, a condition that can initially manifest in childhood, is a behavior disorder that can cause a great deal of impairment and disruption in an individual’s life.

Understanding Conduct Disorder

Learn More About Conduct Disorder

An illness that is distinguished by behaviors that violate age-appropriate social norms, conduct disorder can cause children and adolescents to be impulsive, violent, and vindictive towards others or property. Often times resulting in disciplinary actions at school or interactions with law enforcement, those with conduct disorder frequently break rules, instigate aggressive behavior, damage property, and lash out in an overly-violent manner. Lastly, children and adolescents with conduct disorder often interpret words and actions of others as hostile and react without consideration for potential outcomes of their own behaviors or actions.

Without treatment, those with conduct disorder are especially at risk of experiencing negative, long-term consequences due to their lack of regard for people and things. These individuals also have a greater likelihood for the development of substance abuse issues, in addition to higher chances for attempts at suicide as the sufferer progresses into adolescence and adulthood. Seeking and engaging in effective treatment is key to lessening the possibility of these adverse side effects. In doing so, an individual is able to learn about his or her condition, acquire new skills to manage symptoms, learn how to decrease problematic behaviors, and avoid detrimental aftermaths.


Statistics of Conduct Disorder

One of the most common mental health conditions diagnosed in childhood, conduct disorder affects an estimated 4% of children. Of that percentage, this disorder is more prevalent among males. Lastly, conduct disorder is more frequently seen in those who reside in urban settings as opposed to individuals living in rural communities.

Causes and Risks

Causes and Risk Factors of Conduct Disorder

Because experts have yet to conclude a single, identifiable cause for the development of conduct disorder, there are a number of considerations that must be examined in order to understand the disorder’s origins. Since individuals possess different genes, varying brain chemistry, and environmental backgrounds, the following must be assessed:

Genetic: Studies have found that conduct disorder has some heritable qualities. Individuals with a parent or sibling with conduct disorder are at a greater risk of showing signs and symptoms of the disorder at some point in his or her lifetime. Moreover, those that have a family history of disorders, such as depression or bipolar, are also more susceptible to eventually receiving a conduct disorder diagnosis.

Physical: Through the use of neuroimaging, researchers have found that those with conduct disorder display signs of impairment in the brain’s frontal lobe. This part of the brain is responsible for personality and when it is impaired, the individual may present with deficits in his or her emotions and ability to empathize with other people.

Environmental: It has been hypothesized that certain environmental factors may contribute to an eventual diagnosis of conduct disorder. Experts believe that a lack of or negative parental interactions can play a role in this outcome. A child or adolescent who is abused, neglected, or rejected by a parent is at an increased risk for conduct disorder. Furthermore, inconsistent parenting, frequent changes in caregivers, and caregivers with a history of interactions with the legal system are believed to aid in the development of conduct disorder. With regards to peers, a child or adolescent who experiences negative interactions among children or adolescents of the same age is also at risk of displaying symptoms of conduct disorder.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Family history of mental health disorders
  • Possessing an already established mental illness
  • Family history of interaction with the legal system
  • Residing in an urban area
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Exposure to trauma / violence / abuse / neglect
  • Prior history of institutional living

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Conduct Disorder

The telltale signs and symptoms that a person is suffering from conduct disorder can vary depending on the individual. For example, the age of onset for conduct disorder can greatly determine the severity of symptoms present. Those that display symptoms early in childhood are more likely to experience the more severe symptoms, whereas adolescent-onset of the disorder typically displays milder forms of symptoms. Listed are possible signs and symptoms that would suggest that an individual is suffering from conduct disorder:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Truancy
  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Engaging in criminal activity
  • Unwarranted emotional outbursts
  • Increased aggression
  • Damage to property
  • Bullying
  • Rape / sexual assault

Physical symptoms:

  • Presence of sexually transmitted diseases or infections
  • Burns due to fire starting
  • Injuries due to violent behaviors

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Bad decision-making
  • Poor intellect
  • Difficulty concentrating on tasks

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Lack of regard for people and/or property
  • Low self-esteem
  • Increased irritability
  • Low tolerance for frustration
  • Lack of guilt
  • No remorse for actions or words


Effects of Conduct Disorder

If treatment is not sought for conduct disorder, a person is at risk of experiencing a number of adverse effects that can have a huge impact on an individual’s life. Possible consequences that can occur are:

  • Poor performance at school or work
  • Disciplinary action at school or work
  • Increased interaction with the legal system
  • Early experimentation with sex
  • Elevated risk for sexually transmitted diseases
  • Unplanned pregnancy
  • Substance use
  • Possibility of developing other mental health conditions

Co-Occurring Disorders

Conduct Disorder & Co-Occurring Disorders

Individuals with conduct disorder often suffer from other mental illnesses at the same time. Below is a list of common co-occurring disorders that can exist at the same time as conduct disorder:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Specific learning disorders
  • Communication disorders
  • Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder

My daughter has a second chance after her time at Sonora. Her treatment for conduction disorder was a game changer.

– Mason J.