Causes of Conduct Disorder

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

Causes of Conduct Disorder

Conduct disorder is a disorder in which an adolescent, between the ages of 12 and 18, exhibits socially unacceptable behavior. This behavior can sometimes lead to criminal acts or acts of violence. The behavior that is caused by conduct disorder is often dismissed as delinquency, but actually stems from deep emotional issues.

Adolescents with conduct disorder develop their poor behavior from a number of different factors. When left unaddressed by guardians, teachers and professionals, the behavioral issues will progress. Without proper intervention, conduct disorder will likely develop into antisocial personality disorder.

There are several factors that can contribute to an adolescent developing conduct disorder. While no one factor alone will cause conduct disorder, a combination of different factors will influence onset.

Such factors include:

Child Upbringing

A child is at higher risk of developing conduct disorder if he or she was brought up in an abusive or negligent environment. Parents who fail to nurture the physical, mental and emotional needs of a child place their child at risk of developing conduct disorder.

Children who did not have rules or consequences for their actions are also at high risk of developing conduct disorder. This is because they were not able to learn responsibility or accountability for their actions.

On the other hand, disciplinarian parents tend to cause their child to develop conduct disorder. Through harsh punishments the child develops anxiety. That anxiety causes defiance as a coping mechanism. It also causes the adolescent to act out the emotions he or she does not know how to properly express.

Social Skills and Environments

Being brought up in a neighborhood with high crime and high poverty rate contributes to the onset of conduct disorder. Modeling from neighbors and peers influence the development of the child, which may cause the onset of conduct disorder.

Attending a school with a high truancy and delinquency rate and poor resources also contributes to the onset of conduct disorder. Research supports a correlation between low academic achievement and conduct disorder. This is due in part to the social pressure to engage in delinquent behaviors in school.

The lack of attention to the child’s needs at school is also a contributing factor. Schools with limited resources struggle to meet the developmental needs of each individual student.

Biological Factors

Research supports that abnormalities in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which controls behavior and cognition, has a direct correlation with the onset of conduct disorder. This means most cases of conduct disorder tend to exhibit abnormalities in the prefrontal cortex.

Adolescents with learning disabilities and developmental disabilities are at increased risk of having conduct disorder. This may be due to a number of factors, like a lack of resources, neglect, birth defects, or genetic components.

There also seems to be a hereditary factor that contributes to the onset of conduct disorder. If the adolescent has a direct family member with a criminal history or antisocial personality disorder, he or she is at increased risk of developing conduct disorder.

Co-occurring Mental Health Condition

A diagnosis of a co-occurring mental health condition will significantly contribute to the risk of conduct disorder. The most common mental health diagnosis that inflicts a high risk of conduct disorder is oppositional defiant disorder.

Oppositional defiant disorder is a disorder that is diagnosed to children up to 10 years old. A child who suffers from oppositional defiant disorder will exhibit similar symptoms to conduct disorder.

He or she will exhibit mood swings, defiant behavior, impulsivity, and other behavioral issues. Children with oppositional defiant disorder often develop conduct disorder in adolescence. This is especially likely if the child did not receive proper behavioral treatment for oppositional defiant disorder.

Conduct disorder tends to be co-morbid with other mental health disorders, like:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Narcissistic Personality disorder
  • Substance abuse
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Intermittent explosive disorder
  • Impulse control disorder

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