Conduct Disorder

  • 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

    The following factors are thought to increase the risk of conduct disorder:
    • Age: younger than 18 years old, usually 7-8 years and older
    • Gender: male
    • Child abuse
    • Poor family functioning
    • Family members with substance abuse problems
    • Poor parenting
    • 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, lying, or deceitfulness
    • Forced sexual activity
    • Deliberate destruction of property
    • Serious violations of rules
    • Starting fires
  • Diagnosis

    Your doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your child may be referred to a mental health professional, who will evaluate your child. 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.
    Behavior therapy and psychotherapy can help children learn to appropriately express and control their anger.
    Psychiatric medicines such as lithium, risperidone, and clonidine may benefit children with conduct disorder when used in combination with some form of therapy. In some studies, lithium has helped to reduce aggression. Currently, there are no medicines that have been shown to be clearly effective in treating conduct disorder.
  • Prevention

    If you are concerned your child may be at risk for conduct disorder, talk with your pediatrician about early intervention options.
    Studies have shown that a parenting program called Webster-Stratton Incredible Years can benefit young children who are at risk for conduct disorder.

    American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

    Mental Health America


    Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

    Canadian Mental Health Association


    Conduct disorder. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry website. Available at: Updated May 2012. Accessed July 22, 2013.

    Conduct disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated April 5, 2013. Accessed July 22, 2013

    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.

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