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Definition

Conduct 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.

Causes

While no specific cause of conduct disorder has been identified, the following are thought to possibly contribute to the development of conduct disorder:

  • Brain damage
  • Genetics

Prefrontal Cortex

Prefrontal cortex brain

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 Factors

Conduct 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
Symptoms

Symptoms 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
Diagnosis

You 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.

Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for your child. Treatment options include:

Parent Training

Experts can help parents learn to manage their child’s behavior and emotional problems.

Psychotherapy

Behavior therapy and psychotherapy can help children learn to appropriately express and control their anger.

Medications

Psychiatric medications may benefit children with conduct disorder when used in combination with some form of therapy.

Prevention

If you are concerned your child may be at risk for conduct disorder, talk with your child's doctor about early intervention options.

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
http://aacap.org

Mental Health America
http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
http://www.cacap-acpea.org

Canadian Mental Health Association
http://www.cmha.ca

References:

Conduct disorder. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry website. Available at: http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/Facts_for_Families_Pages/Conduct_Disorder_33.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.



Last reviewed May 2014 by Kari Kassir, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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