Conduct Disorder

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

Condition updated on July 17th, 2018

Conduct Disorder

Conduct disorder is a condition in which an adolescent exhibits behavioral issues and misconduct. This misconduct is extreme and often criminal, and is accompanied by emotional issues. Onset for conduct disorder is often between ages 10 and 13.

Adolescents with conduct disorder will exhibit little remorse or accountability for their actions. This tends to create interpersonal issues with peers, teachers and family members. Adolescents with conduct disorder tend to be labeled as “trouble” or “dangerous”. Their behavior is often aggressive and threatening, and tends to deter people from engaging with them.

Symptoms and Warning Signs of Conduct Disorder

Adolescents with conduct disorder will exhibit destructive symptoms and behavioral issues. To the untrained eye, these symptoms can be considered intolerable. They deal with the behavior through means of punishment. People often fail to see the emotional turmoil that causes the behavior. In turn, many cases of conduct disorder tend to not be properly treated as a mental health disorder.

It is important to know how to identify the symptoms and signs of conduct disorder. This will aid in the proper diagnosis of the condition, which will help the adolescent get the treatment they need.

Symptoms of conduct disorder include:

  • Inflicting harm onto people and animals
  • Bullying
  • Acts of violence
  • An infatuation with weapons that extends beyond a hobby or interest
  • Abuse of animals
  • Poor sense of or disregard for personal boundaries
  • Destructive behavior toward self and others
  • Criminal behavior
  • Lying
  • Aggression toward teachers, peers, family members, and authority figures
  • Defiance toward authority figures
  • Disregard for rules or consequences
  • Truancy or skipping school
  • Sexual assault or aggression
  • Setting fires
  • Stealing or robbing property from people or establishments
  • Running away from home
  • Breaking curfew

Causes of Conduct Disorder

A combination of different factors will contribute to the onset of conduct disorder. Each case is different and will be caused by different circumstances. One of the following factors alone rarely results in conduct disorder. A combination of different factors will result in diagnosis.

Such factors may include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Mental abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Neglect
  • Having disciplinarian parents
  • A lack of household rules or restrictions
  • Lack of consequences for behavior
  • Poverty
  • Living in a neighborhood with a high crime rate
  • Attending a school with poor resources and high delinquency
  • Low academic achievement
  • Suffering from a learning disability or developmental disability
  • Having a family member with a criminal history or antisocial personality disorder
  • Being diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder before the age of 11
  • Suffering from a co-occurring mental health condition

Treatment Options for Conduct Disorder

Treatment is necessary for conduct disorder. If left untreated, the adolescent will likely develop antisocial personality disorder.

Recovery from conduct disorder is not easy, but it is possible. Treatment will take time and patience for the adolescent, treatment team, friends, family and teachers. In more extreme cases, residential treatment may be necessary for recovery.

The goal of conduct disorder treatment is to teach the adolescent healthy coping and self-expression skills. The adolescent will aim to learn accountability and empathy, and learn how to be self-reflective and self-aware.


Psychotherapy helps the adolescent explore the issues that may contribute to their diagnosis. Such issues that may contribute to their diagnosis issues include:

  • Emotional issues
  • Interpersonal issues
  • Family dynamics
  • Self-image
  • Behavioral issues
  • History of trauma

Psychotherapy also teaches coping skills for anger, anxiety, depression, and impulse control challenges.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy educates the adolescent about his or her own behavior and what contributes to their behavior. It helps to learn coping skills that build a higher self-esteem and modify behavior and social skills.

Cognitive Therapy

Cognitive therapy teaches the adolescent how to be aware of how their thoughts influence their behavior. It pinpoints errors in thinking and helps reconstruct thought patterns.

Family Therapy

A crucial component to treatment for conduct disorder is family therapy. Having family members who are active in therapy improves prognosis. It also improves motivation in recovery.

Family therapy educates family members about conduct disorder. It teaches how to create a stable and secure home environment. It also teaches parenting techniques that are conducive to recovery.

Psychiatric Medication

Psychiatric medication is not used to treat conduct disorder. However, sometimes a treatment team may deem it necessary to treat any co-occurring mental health disorders. Treating the co-occurring mental health disorders helps to manage symptoms. This reduces behavioral and mental health challenges while in treatment.

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