Conduct disorder is a repetitive and persistent pattern of behavior in children and adolescents in which the rights of others or basic social rules are violated. Starting fires, torturing animals, damaging property, theft, physical altercations, and breaking the law are all common examples of conduct disorder. Most children develop this disorder by 10-14 years of age and development after 16 years of age is very rare. If conduct disorder persists into adulthood, it is referred at antisocial personality disorder. Conduct disorder is often seen in individuals with attention deficit disorder, anxiety and depression and children and teenager with conduct disorder are more prone to suicidal ideations and suicide attempts.

Is conduct disorder the same as oppositional defiant disorder?

Conduct disorder is often confused with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) however these are two distinct disorders with overlap. Children and teenagers with both conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder both have issues respecting authority figures and will go above and beyond to break the rules and act in defiant and disobedient manners however those with conduct disorder will engage in delinquent and antisocial behaviors. These delinquent and antisocial behaviors include physical violence, property destruction, animal abuse, reckless endangerment, law-breaking, dishonesty, theft and disrespecting others. Many individuals with conduct disorder will also engage in early onset sexual behaviors, drinking, and drug use. Children with oppositional defiant disorder can have the potential to develop this disorder if they begin to exhibit delinquent and antisocial behaviors; however, this is uncommon as most children grow out of ODD. Most children with conduct disorder also grow out this disorder however if conduct disorder persists past the age of 18 then it becomes antisocial personality disorder. Thus oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, and antisocial personality disorder are all part of the same dissocial spectrum.

Signs and symptoms of conduct disorder

  • Bullies, threatens, or intimidates others
  • Initiates physical fights
  • Uses weapons that can cause serious physical harm to others
  • Psychically cruel to people
  • Psychically cruel to animals
  • Engages in theft
  • Forces individuals into sexual activity
  • Deliberately engages in fire setting with the intention of causing serious damage
  • Deliberately destroys others’ property
  • Breaks into someone else’s house, building, or car
  • Lies to obtain goods or favors or to avoid obligations
  • Shoplifting
  • Breaks curfew
  • Runs away from home
  • Engages in truancy

Conduct disorder does not only affect the caregivers and parents

Conduct disorder isn’t just a challenge for caregivers; it actually impairs a child’s ability to function.  Children with conduct disorder misbehave so much that their education is affected. They usually receive frequent disciplinary action from teachers and may be truant. These children may be at a higher risk of failure or dropping out of school.  Children with conduct disorder also have poor relationships. They struggle to develop and maintain friendships. Their relationships with family members usually suffer due to the severity of their behavior. Adolescents with conduct disorder are also more likely to have legal problems. Substance abuse, violent behavior, and a disregard for the law may lead to incarceration.

Treatment for conduct disorder

Similar to oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder does not respond well to medications but is instead treated with parental training and in extreme cases, residential placement. In severe cases, residential placement may be necessary to keep everyone safe. A therapeutic environment may address substance abuse issues, sexualized behavior, or violence. Many residential placements for this disorder consist of an outdoor school where individuals learn survival wilderness skills and undergo psychotherapy in an outdoor setting. Parental training is the mainstay therapy approach for conduct disorder. Parents are taught behavior management strategies and techniques to increase safety in the home if a child is aggressive or violent.