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Conduct Disorder

Conduct disorder is characterized by antisocial behaviors that violate the rights of others and age-appropriate social standards and rules.

Antisocial behaviors may include:

  • Irresponsibility
  • Delinquent behaviors, such as truancy or running away
  • Violating the rights of others, such as theft
  • Physical aggression toward animals or people

These behaviors can occur together, or one at a time.

Conduct disorder can be arise out of many different factors, including:

  • Frontal lobe impairment that interferes with the ability to plan, avoid harm and learn from negative experiences
  • Genetics
  • Social problems and peer group rejection
  • Having a difficult temperament
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • The presence of other psychiatric problems

Boys are more prone to conduct disorder than girls.

Conduct disorder symptoms

There are four main groups of behaviors that characterize conduct disorder. They include:

  • Aggressive conduct. Aggressive conduct threatens or causes physical harm to others. Such behavior may include bullying, physical fights, cruelty to animals, use of weapons, rape or molestation.
  • Destructive conduct. Destructive conduct may include vandalism and arson.
  • Deceitfulness. Deceitful behavior may include theft, lying, shoplifting and delinquency.
  • Violation of rules. Violation of ordinary rules of conduct or age-appropriate norms may include running away, malicious pranks, mischief and failure to attend school.

Children who display the symptoms of conduct disorder may not necessarily have the disorder. In children who have it, symptoms occur more frequently and interfere with learning, school adjustment and relationships with others.

Diagnosis and treatment

To diagnose a conduct disorder, a child psychiatrist will:

  • Gather a detailed history of the child's behavior from parents and teachers
  • Observe the child's behavior
  • Conduct psychological testing

Parents who note symptoms of conduct disorder in their child or teen can help by seeking an evaluation and treatment early. Early treatment can often prevent future problems.

Further, conduct disorder often coexists with other mental health disorders, including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and learning disorders, increasing the need for early diagnosis and treatment. 

Treatment may include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral approaches. The goal of cognitive-behavioral therapy is to improve problem solving skills, communication skills, impulse control, and anger management skills.

  • Family therapy. Family therapy is often focused on making changes within the family system, such as improving communication skills and family interactions.

  • Peer group therapy. Peer group therapy is often focused on developing social skills and interpersonal skills.

  • Medication. While not considered effective in treating conduct disorder, medication may be used if other disorders are present and responsive to medication.

Prevention of conduct disorder in childhood

As with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), some experts believe that a developmental sequence of experiences occurs in the development of conduct disorder.

This sequence may start with ineffective parenting practices, followed by academic failure, and poor peer interactions. These experiences then often lead to depressed mood and involvement in a deviant peer group.

Other experts, however, believe that many factors, including child abuse, genetic susceptibility, history of academic failure, brain damage, and/or a traumatic experience influence the expression of conduct disorder. Early detection and intervention into negative family and social experiences may be helpful in disrupting the development of the sequence of experiences that lead to more disruptive and aggressive behaviors.

Make an Appointment


Outpatient Psychiatry Clinic


Behavioral Health Day Treatment Programs: PHP/IOP