Signs & Symptoms of Conduct Disorder

Oasis Behavioral Health Hospital helps individuals in Chandler, AZ diagnose and treat their mental health & addiction disorders.

Understanding Conduct Disorder

Learn about conduct disorder

Conduct disorder (CD) presents itself in late childhood or adolescence and consists of a pattern of behaviors in which people repeatedly and persistently violate the rights of others, or violate age-appropriate societal norms. Children and adolescents who have conduct disorder participate in severely negative behavior patterns in a variety of settings, including at school, at home, and in social situations. The behaviors that individuals with Conduct Disorder display can cause significant impairment in essentially every aspect of their lives, as well as in the lives of those around them without proper treatment.


Conduct disorder statistics

Conduct disorder is said to be the most commonly diagnosed psychiatric illness in children and adolescents throughout the world. Studies have shown that 1-4% of adolescents between the ages of 9 and 17 suffer from CD in the United States alone. This disorder is known to be more prevalent in boys than it is in girls and tends to develop more predominantly in urban areas as opposed to rural areas.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for conduct disorder

There is not any one single factor known to cause conduct disorder to develop in a person, but rather it is believed to be a combination of various factors working together. The following are some examples of these factors:

Genetic: The personality traits of individuals are commonly inherited from family members, so researchers believe that genetic influences have an impact on the development of CD. Children and adolescents who have conduct disorder are also commonly noted as having family members who suffer from some form of mental illness as well, including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders.

Physical: The frontal lobe of the brain is responsible for the regulation of emotions; an impairment within that area is believed to potentially have a direct link to the development of conduct disorder.

Environmental: While subject to ongoing debate, parental behavior is believed by many professionals in the field to have a significant impact on whether or not children develop symptoms of conduct disorder. Children who are raised in a home lacking appropriate discipline, or where the parents (or primary caregivers) are absent more than they are present can play a major role in the behaviors that children exhibit. Researchers also believe that children who have experienced a significant trauma or who have experienced a great deal of stress are more susceptible to developing the disorder.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of mental illness
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Nonexistent or inconsistent discipline
  • Cognitive processing deficits
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Living in a city as opposed to a rural area
  • Exposure to violence
  • Suffering from abuse and/or neglect
  • Being male

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of conduct disorder

The signs and symptoms of conduct disorder will vary from person to person based on a number of different factors, including the age of the person and the environment in which the person lives. The general symptoms have been broken down into four distinct categories, including: aggression to people and animals, destruction of property, deceitfulness or theft, and serious violation of rules. The following are examples of each type:

Aggression to people and animals:

  • Threatening or intimidating others
  • Bullying others
  • Physically cruel to others
  • Physically cruel to animals
  • Using a weapon that has the potential to cause serious harm, such as bricks, bats, knives, guns, etc.
  • Forcing someone into sexual activity against that person’s will

Destruction of property:

  • Fire-setting with the deliberate intention of causing damage
  • Deliberately destroying the property of others in ways other than fire-setting

Deceitfulness or theft:

  • Compulsive and excessive lying, even when being honest would be just as easy, if not easier
  • Lying in order to obtain favors or goods and/or to avoid obligations
  • Breaking into houses, cars, or buildings
  • Shoplifting

Serious violation of rules:

  • Not going to school
  • Staying out late at night, despite parents forbidding them from doing so
  • Repeatedly running away from home
  • Drinking alcohol while underage
  • Using illegal substances


Effects of conduct disorder

If left untreated, the effects of conduct disorder can be devastating and can continue to exist long into adulthood. If a person with CD does not receive treatment, he or she will most likely go on to develop antisocial personality disorder as an adult, as conduct disorder is known to be a precursor to that illness. Some examples of other effects that conduct disorder can have on those suffering from it can include:

  • Lack of empathy
  • Lack of a sense of guilt
  • Lack of remorse
  • Participating in ongoing risky sexual behaviors
  • Chronic substance abuse / addiction
  • Delinquency
  • Criminal involvement
  • Incarceration
  • Suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

Conduct disorder and co-occurring disorders

Children and adolescents who have conduct disorder may also experience symptoms of various other mental illnesses as well. The following are the most commonly noted disorders known to exist alongside, or occur prior to the development of, conduct disorder:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Substance abuse disorders
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