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Conduct Disorder

What is Conduct Disorder?

Conduct disorder is a severe and persistent psychological disorder that is diagnosed during childhood or adolescence and is often seen as the precursor to antisocial personality disorder. Children with conduct disorder are aggressive, destructive, deceitful, and violate rules more than is socially normal for their age. They also show little guilt or remorse about hurting others.

Symptoms of Conduct Disorder

Symptoms of conduct disorder fall under four general categories: aggressive behavior, destructive behavior, deceitful behavior, and violating rules.

Here is the breakdown of the four general categories of Conduct Disorder Symptoms:

    1. Aggressive Behavior
      • Fighting
      • Bullying
      • Being cruel to people or animals
      • Using weapons
      • Forcing someone into sexual activity


    1. Destructive Behavior
      • Destruction of property
      • Vandalism


    1. Deceitful Behavior
      • Repetitive lying
      • Shoplifting
      • Breaking into homes and cars with the intent to steal


  1. Violation of rules
    • Running away
    • Truancy
    • Playing pranks
    • Being sexually active at a very young age

Causes of Conduct Disorder

The exact causes of conduct disorder aren’t known, although it is thought that a combination of genetic and environmental factors play a combined role.

Some of the factors that may play a role in causing conduct disorder are:

  • Brain damage
  • Abuse/neglect
  • School failure
  • Trauma
  • Genetic vulnerability
  • Parental illness
  • Parent with substance abuse
  • Parent with antisocial personality disorder

It is hard to know how common the disorder is, because many of the qualities needed to make the diagnosis (such as “defiance” and “rule breaking”) can be hard to define. For an accurate diagnosis, the behavior must be far more extreme than simple adolescent rebellion or boyish enthusiasm.

Possible Complications of Conduct Disorder

Children with conduct disorder may go on to develop personality disorders as adults, particularly antisocial personality disorder. As their behaviors worsen, these individuals may also develop drug and legal problems.

Depression and bipolar disorder may develop in adolescence and early adulthood. Suicide and violence towards others are also possible complications of this disorder.

Testing for Conduct Disorder

There is no real test for diagnosing conduct disorder. The diagnosis is made when a child or adolescent has a history of conduct disorder behaviors. A physical examination and blood tests can help rule out medical conditions that are similar to conduct disorder. Rarely, a brain scan may also help rule out other disorders. A CD diagnosis in a child is more common among boys than girls.

Treatment for Conduct Disorder

Behavior therapy and psychotherapy are usually necessary to help the child appropriately express and control his or her anger. Special education may be needed for youngsters with learning disabilities. Parents often need expert assistance in devising and carrying out special management and educational programs in the home and at school. Home-based treatment programs such as Multisystemic Therapy are effective for helping both the child and family. Treatment for CD may also include certain medications for some, such as those with possible depression, anxiety, PTSD, or ADHD. In those cases, medications will sometimes alleviate symptoms of both disorders.

Treatment is rarely brief since establishing new attitudes and behavior patterns takes time. However, early treatment offers a child a better chance for considerable improvement and hope for a more successful future.

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