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Conduct Disorders

What Are Conduct Disorders?

Conduct disorders, such as intermittent explosive disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, are a type of mental illness. They involve a frequent and repetitive pattern of behavior in which the basic rights of others and major age-appropriate norms are violated. Some symptoms include aggression towards people or animals, destruction of property, deceitfulness or theft, and serious violation of rules.

Children with conduct disorders often have problems staying focused in school, following rules at home, getting along with other children and adults, having realistic long-term goals or plans for the future, and planning actions that will help them achieve their goals. Signs of a conduct disorder include aggression towards others, bullying, cruelty to animals, breaking the rules at school or home, lying, truancy, vandalism, fighting and shoplifting.

How common are conduct disorders?

Studies show that up to 1 in 20 children have a conduct disorder at some time during their childhood or adolescence. Boys are more likely than girls to develop these conditions.

What causes conduct disorders?

The exact cause of conduct disorder is not known, but a combination of factors may play a role. Genetics have been shown to have a strong influence on the development of these conditions. In addition, children who have suffered from abuse or neglect are at an increased risk for developing a conduct disorder.

More Information About Conduct Disorders?

Conduct disorders are a group of mental health conditions in which a child, adolescent, or adult displays a pattern of disruptive behaviors over time. These patterns may be severe enough and continue over long enough periods to cause significant problems in the person's daily life at home.

When to see a doctor

It is important to see a doctor as soon as possible if you think your child may have a conduct disorder. If it is diagnosed and treated early, problems with behavior are more likely to improve over time.

If medical treatment is delayed, it may lead to a number of problems, including:

·          Academic failure and school dropout

·          Substance abuse and addiction (such as alcohol or drug use)

·          Criminal behavior, legal problems, and incarceration

·          Suicide attempts and self-injury (such as cutting)


The exact cause of conduct disorders is unknown. However, they tend to run in families. This suggests that certain people may have a genetic predisposition to these disorders. Scientists are continuing to investigate how brain development might play a role in the development of psychiatric illnesses such as conduct disorders.

Diagnosis and Tests

Since many other problems cause similar signs and symptoms as conduct disorder, a doctor will usually ask questions about your child's:

·          Symptoms (such as violent outbursts or lying)

·          Development (such as school performance)

A doctor may also recommend a medical or psychological evaluation to rule out other problems.


There is no cure for conduct disorder, but treatment can help reduce symptoms and prevent new episodes from developing. Treatment often includes behavioral therapy, family counseling, and medication.

What are the treatments for conduct disorders?   Behavioral therapies for conduct disorders may include:

·          Counseling or group therapy for children and adolescents

·          Parent training, including support groups and education on how to manage a child's behavior at home

Medications used to treat other problems, such as depression or anxiety, can also help. However, taking medication does not replace the need for other forms of treatment.


It is not always possible to prevent conduct disorder, but parents and caregivers can support children's development by:

·          Being supportive and consistent in discipline techniques

·          Offering clear rules and expectations for behavior

·          Being involved in your child's education at school

A doctor or mental health professional can help you identify resources in your community to assist with parenting, including parent training programs.

Support and resources

Support resources:​index.shtml


Conduct disorder symptoms may vary depending on a child's age and specific abilities and behaviors, but they include:

·          Aggressive or violent behavior toward people and animals (such as using a weapon)

·          Destroying property (such as fire setting)

·          Deceitfulness or theft (such as breaking into someone else's house)

·          Serious violations of rules (such as truancy, staying out late without permission)

Symptoms may be worse when a child with conduct disorder is in a stressful situation. Sometimes symptoms change or disappear during adolescence. However, unmanaged symptoms often continue into adulthood.