DefinitionConduct disorder is a childhood emotional and behavioral disorder characterized by disruptive behavior. Children with conduct disorder have difficulty following rules and behaving in a socially acceptable manner.
CausesWhile no specific cause of conduct disorder has been identified, the following are thought to possibly contribute to the development of conduct disorder:
- Brain damage
|This area of the brain is associated with appropriate social behavior. A combination of genetics affecting this area and life experiences may cause conduct disorder.|
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Risk FactorsConduct disorder is more likely in male children younger than 18 years old, usually 7-8 years and older. The following factors are thought to increase the risk of conduct disorder:
- A history of child abuse
- Poor family functioning
- Family members with substance abuse problems
- Failure in school
- Traumatic life experiences
SymptomsSymptoms of conduct disorder may include:
- Bullying behavior
- Physical fights
- Use of a weapon
- Physical cruelty to people or animals
- Stealing or lying
- Forced sexual activity
- Deliberate destruction of property
- Serious violations of rules
- Starting fires
DiagnosisYou will be asked about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your child may be referred to a mental health professional for evaluation. Diagnosis is based on behaviors that violate social norms or the basic rights of others.
TreatmentTalk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for your child. Treatment options include:
Parent TrainingExperts can help parents learn to manage their child’s behavior and emotional problems.
PsychotherapyBehavior therapy and psychotherapy can help children learn to appropriately express and control their anger.
MedicationsPsychiatric medications may benefit children with conduct disorder when used in combination with some form of therapy.
PreventionIf you are concerned your child may be at risk for conduct disorder, talk with your child's doctor about early intervention options.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Mental Health America
Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Canadian Mental Health Association
Conduct disorder. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry website. Available at: http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families%5Fand%5FYouth/Facts%5Ffor%5FFamilies/Facts%5Ffor%5FFamilies%5FPages/Conduct%5FDisorder%5F33.aspx.Updated August 2013. Accessed May 29, 2014.
Conduct disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php.Updated October 1, 2013. Accessed May 29, 2014.
Holmes SE, Slaughter JR, et al. Risk factors in childhood that lead to the development of conduct disorder and antisocial personality disorder. Child Psych Hum Dev. 2001;31:183-193.
- Reviewer: Kari Kassir, MD
- Review Date: 05/2014
- Update Date: 05/29/2014
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