Conduct Disorder

Conduct disorder is more commonly known as antisocial personality disorder, a disorder in which the individual displays severe behavioral and emotional problems. After the age of 18, the disorder is diagnosed as antisocial personality disorder while prior to age 18, the disorder is known as conduct disorder. It is not uncommon for children and teenagers to display some level of disruptive behavior such as rebellion, but these behavioral issues are considered symptoms of conduct disorder when they last for long periods of time and severely disrupt the child and their family’s lives.


The symptoms of conduct disorder vary from child to child depending on the severity of the disorder as well as the age of the child:

Aggressive Behavior

  • Fighting others
  • Bullying
  • Use of weapons
  • Use of force in sexual activities
  • Cruelty to animals

Violation of Rules

  • Engaging in behaviors that are not acceptable for his/her age group
  • Running away from home
  • Skipping school
  • Being sexually active at a very young age
  • Playing pranks

Deceitful Behavior

  • Lying
  • Shoplifting
  • Breaking into homes
  • Breaking into cars
  • Theft

Destructive Behavior

  • Arson
  • Burglary
  • Vandalism  

As the child gets older, the symptoms of conduct disorder begin to resemble that of antisocial personality disorder, a more severe form of conduct disorder:

  • Persistent lying
  • Extreme lack of empathy
  • Cruelty to animals
  • Difficulties with the law
  • Disregards laws, tends to violate boundaries
  • Aggressive
  • Disregard for the safety of self or others
  • Substance abuse
  • Extreme irritability


The exact cause of conduct disorder is still unknown. There are a number of theories that vary from person to person as to what causes this disorder to develop in certain children.

  • Biological – research has discovered that there are certain parts of the brain that are linked to behaviors and behavioral disorders. Any damage to this part of the brain can lead to a number of behavioral disorders. An imbalance of neurotransmitters, a chemical in the brain can also lead to conduct disorder. In addition, if the child has suffered or is suffering from any other kinds of mental illness, this can contribute to an increased risk in developing a behavioral disorder such as conduct disorder.
  • Genetics – there is an increased risk for children to develop behavioral disorders if the disorder is common in his/her family.
  • Environmental factors – if the child has been subject to childhood trauma, abuse, inconsistent discipline from parents or family use of substance abuse, the child can have a high risk of developing a behavioral disorder.


The first part in diagnosing a behavioral disorder in children is a medical examination by a physician to rule out any other illnesses that can be linked to conduct disorder. After this has been complete, the physician will look at the family medical history and will conduct a number of tests such as blood work and neurological scanning to rule out any other possible causes. If there are no physical causes for the symptoms, a psychologist or psychiatrist will conduct specially designed interviews and assessments to evaluate the mental disorder. The diagnosis is based on the child’s response to certain questions, input from parents and family members and a series of observations of the child interacting with others.


Medication and psychotherapy are the only two treatments for conduct disorder that are used today. Medications used are not designed for this specific disorder, rather they are meant for other mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorder and ADHD, all symptoms of which can be very similar to conduct disorder. Psychotherapy is a kind of counseling that is aimed at teaching the child how to control their anger.