Conduct disorder is a behavior disorder sometimes diagnosed in childhood. A child with this disorder may show antisocial behaviors. These behaviors violate the rights of others, as well as basic social standards and rules. These behaviors may include:
Delinquent behaviors (such as truancy or running away)
Violating the rights of others (such as theft)
Physical aggression toward animals or others (such as assault or rape)
These behaviors sometimes occur together. But 1 or more may occur without the others.
Many factors contribute to this disorder. Neuropsychological testing has shown that children and teens with conduct disorders seem to have an impairment in the frontal lobe of the brain. This interferes with their ability to plan, avoid harm, and learn from negative experiences. Childhood temperament is considered to have a genetic basis. Children or teens who are considered to have a difficult temperament are more likely to develop behavior problems. Children or teens from disadvantaged, dysfunctional, and disorganized home environments are more likely to develop conduct disorders, although it can be found in all socioeconomic groups. Social problems and peer group rejection have been found to contribute to delinquency. Low socioeconomic status has been linked to conduct disorders. Children and teens who show delinquent and aggressive behaviors have distinctive cognitive and psychological profiles when compared to children with other mental health problems and control groups. All of the possible contributing factors influence how children and teens interact with other people.
The disorder is more common in boys than in girls. Children and adolescents with conduct disorders often have other psychiatric problems as well that may contribute to the development of the conduct disorder. The prevalence of conduct disorders has increased over recent decades across races, cultures, and socioeconomic groups.
Most symptoms seen in children with conduct disorder also occur at times in children without this disorder. But in children with conduct disorder, these symptoms occur more often. These symptoms also interfere with learning, school adjustment, and sometimes with the child's relationships.
Each child’s symptoms may vary. But the 4 main groups of behaviors include the following:
Aggressive conduct. This behavior causes or threatens physical harm to others and may include the following:
Cruelty to others or animals
Use of a weapon
Forcing someone into sexual activity, rape, or molestation
Destructive conduct. This may include the following:
Intentional destruction to property (vandalism)
Deceitfulness. This behavior may include the following:
Violation of rules. Violation of ordinary rules of conduct or age-appropriate norms may include the following:
Truancy (not going to school)
Very early sexual activity
The symptoms of conduct disorder may look like other medical conditions or behavioral problems. Always see your child's healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
A child psychiatrist or a qualified mental health professional usually diagnoses conduct disorders in children and teens. A detailed history of the child's behavior from parents and teachers, observations of the child's behavior, and, sometimes, psychological testing contribute to the diagnosis. 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.
Conduct disorder often occurs along with other mental health disorders including:
Posttraumatic stress disorder
ADHD (Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder)
Early diagnosis and treatment is important. See your child's healthcare provider for more information.
Your child's healthcare provider will figure out the best treatment plan for your child based on:
How old your child is
Your child’s overall health and medical history
Extent of your child’s symptoms
How well your child handles certain medicines, treatments, or therapies
If your child’s condition is expected to get worse
The opinion of the healthcare providers involved in your child's care
Your opinion and preference
Treatment for conduct disorder 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. This is often focused on making changes within the family system, such as improving communication skills and family interactions.
Peer group therapy. This is often focused on developing social skills and interpersonal skills.
Medicine. Medicine is not considered effective in treating conduct disorder. But it may be used if other symptoms or disorders are present and responsive to medicine.
Some experts believe that a developmental series of experiences occurs in the development of conduct disorder. This 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 believe that many factors influence conduct disorder including:
History of academic failure
A traumatic experience
Early detection and intervention into negative family and social experiences may be helpful. This may disrupt the series of experiences that leads to more disruptive and aggressive behaviors.
© 2015 The University of Chicago Medical Center. All rights reserved.
The University of Chicago Medicine
5841 S. Maryland Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637 | 773-702-1000
Appointments: Call UCM Connect at 1-888-824-0200