Causes & Effects of Conduct Disorder

Understanding Conduct Disorder

Learn about Conduct Disorder Treatment

Conduct disorder is a disorder where an individual, usually in his or her childhood or adolescent years, has difficulty displaying age-appropriate behavior and following rules and laws. This disorder is also marked by deceitfulness, destruction of property, theft, and/or aggression towards animals or other people. These behaviors are usually not minor, but rather are extreme and interfere with one’s ability to function at home, school, in social settings, or at work.

While conduct disorder is most common in children and teens, it can be diagnosed in adults, too. Thankfully, treatment is available for people of all ages who are grappling with the symptoms of conduct disorder.


Statistics about Conduct Disorder

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) reports that conduct disorder is present in 2-10% of the U.S. population. It also states the following:

  • Four out of every 10 individuals display symptoms of conduct disorder
  • Males are more likely to develop conduct disorder than females
  • More people are diagnosed with this disorder as they get older

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Conduct Disorder

There are numerous risk factors that can lead to the development of conduct disorder. Some of these factors, including genetic and environmental ones, include the following:

  • Having a first-degree relative with conduct disorder or a similar disorder
  • A history of trauma, assault, sexual abuse, or rejection
  • Being male
  • Being institutionalized
  • Frequent moves or changes in caregivers during childhood
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Parents who were involved in crime
  • Being the victim of abuse or neglect

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Conduct Disorder

The signs and symptoms of conduct disorder can vary from person to person, and can depend on one’s age. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of this condition include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Has caused harm to another person with a weapon
  • Has been involved in or initiated fights
  • Intimidates, threatens, and bullies other people
  • Theft of personal property or shoplifting
  • Fire-setting
  • Property destruction
  • Has sexually assaulted another person through the use of coercion or force
  • Frequently lies or bends the truth
  • Refuses to comply with job requirements
  • Engages in cruelty to animals or children

Physical symptoms:

  • Burns from starting fires
  • Injuries from physical fights or through destruction of property
  • Sexually transmitted diseases as a result of risky sexual behavior

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Low ability to control impulses
  • Lowered ability to concentrate on tasks
  • Below-average IQ score (in some cases)

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Little or no patience
  • No remorse or guilt over actions
  • Little or no empathy
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Portrays a false belief of grandiosity

Lasting Effects

Effects of Conduct Disorder

If conduct disorder continues without treatment, it can destroy an individual’s life, as well as the lives of those around him or her. Some of the effects of conduct disorder include the following:

  • Difficulty obtaining and keeping a job
  • Family conflict
  • Financial difficulties
  • Sexually transmitted diseases due to risky sexual behavior
  • Arrests or jail time
  • Relationship conflicts
  • Expulsion from school or loss of job
  • Onset of other mental illnesses
  • Domestic violence
  • Substance use disorders and substance dependence

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Substance Abuse or Mental Health Issues

Those who have conduct disorder often experience symptoms of one or more mental illnesses at the same time, which is known as having a co-occurring disorder. Some of the mental illnesses that someone with conduct disorder is more likely to experience include the following:

  • Substance use disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
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