What is Conduct Disorder?

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Information about Conduct Disorder and its causes and treatments.

Conduct Disorder is a disorder in which a person has a repetitive and persistent pattern of behavioral problems. While the person is performing these behaviors he is violating the rights of others and going against societal norms. Conduct Disorder is a disorder that is found in children and adolescents. This disorder is seen more in males than in females. Males and females who are diagnosed with this disorder normally show different symptoms. Some children and adolescents with conduct disorder go on to develop personality disorders in adulthood.

Male Symptoms

Males usually show more aggressive and violent symptoms than females do. Some common symptoms of males include:

  • Fighting
  • Stealing
  • Vandalism
  • School discipline problems

Female Symptoms

Females usually display less violent symptoms than males. Some common female symptoms include:

  • Lying
  • Truancy
  • Running away
  • Substance use
  • Promiscuous sex and/or prostitution

Diagnostic Criteria

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists three major categories of criteria that have to be met for diagnosis. The criteria include:

  1. A pattern of behavior that is repetitive and persistent in which the person violates the norms and rules of society or violates the basic rights of others. Behaviors that fit these criteria include: aggression to people and animals, destruction of property, serious violation of rules and deceitfulness or theft.
  2. The behaviors have to cause clinically significant impairment in academic, occupational or social functioning.
  3. If the person is over the age of 18, Antisocial Personality Disorder is ruled out.

There are three subtypes for Conduct Disorder. The three subtypes are:

  • Childhood-Onset Type- Used when the symptoms occur before the age of 10 years.
  • Adolescent-Onset Type- Used when the symptoms occur during and after 10 years of age.
  • Unspecified Onset- Used when the age symptoms occur is unknown.

Causes of Conduct Disorder

The actual cause of Conduct Disorder is not known, but there are many factors that play a role in how children and adolescents with this disorder behave. These factors are biological, environmental, genetic and social. The contributing factors can be from any one group or more than one group. The factors of Conduct Disorder are:

  • Biological Factors- It is believed that abnormalities in certain areas of the brain, problems with the neurotransmitters in the brain, learning difficulties and other mental disorders may be contributing factors to Conduct Disorder.
  • Environmental Factors- There are many environmental factors that may be contributing factors of Conduct Disorder including: inconsistent discipline, childhood abuse, substance abuse in the family and traumatic experiences.
  • Genetic Factors- Many children and adolescents with Conduct Disorder have family members that have been diagnosed with other mental disorders. This leads professionals to believe that individuals with conduct disorder may have a predisposition for the disorder.
  • Social Factors- Children from poor families and children who are bullied and not accepted by their peers have a higher risk of developing conduct disorder.

Treatment for Conduct Disorder

Children and adolescents with Conduct Disorder are usually treated with psychotherapy and medications. The therapy is aimed to help the individual learn coping skills, problem solving and anger management. There are no medications that treat Conduct Disorder, but if the child has another diagnosis there may be medication available that will treat symptoms from that diagnosis.


American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC

WebMd Mental Health and Conduct Disorder http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-health-conduct-disorder

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Sheila Buck

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