Conduct Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

What Is Conduct Disorder?

Conduct Disorder is a group of behavioural and emotional issues that generally begin in childhood or adolescence. Children and youth with this disorder struggle to follow the rules and conduct themselves in a socially acceptable manner.

They may engage in aggressive, destructive and deceptive behaviour that may violate other people’s rights. Adults and other children can see them as “bad” or delinquent, rather than mentally ill.

If your child has conduct problems, these can seem difficult and confident. In fact, however, children with a conduct disorder are often uncertain and mistakenly think that people are aggressive or threatening towards them.

Types of Conduct Disorder

There are three different types of conduct disorder. They are classified on the basis of the age at which the symptoms of the disease appear for the first time:

  • The appearance in children occurs when signs of behavioral conduct disorders appear before the age of 10 years.
  • Adolescence occurs when the signs of conduct disorders appear during adolescence.
  • The appearance not specified means that the age at which the conduct disorder first appears is unknown.

Some children will receive a diagnosis of conduct disorder with limited pro-social emotions. Children suffering from this particular type of conduct disorder are often described as insensitive and not emotional.

What Are the Symptoms of Conduct Disorder?

Children with behavioural conduct problems are often difficult to control and refuse to follow the rules. They act on an impulsive basis with no regard for the consequences of their actions. They also do not recognize the feelings of others. Your child may experience a conduct disorder if he or she consistently displays one or more of the following behaviours:

  • deceitful behavior
  • destructive behavior
  • aggressive conduct
  • violation of rules

Aggressive Conduct

Aggressive conduct behaviours include the following:

  • committing rape
  • intimidating
  • intentionally harming persons or animals.
  • using a weapon

Deceitful Behavior

Deceitful behavior may include the following:

  • stealing
  • forgery
  • lying
  • breaking and entering

Destructive Behavior

Destructive conduct may involve arson and other intentional damage to property.

Violation of Rules

Violation of rules may include the following:

  • skipping school
  • To escape from home.
  • use of drugs or alcohol.
  • sexual behaviour early in life.

Boys with a conduct disorder are more likely to exhibit aggressive and destructive behaviour compared to girls. Girls are more likely to engage in deceptive behaviour and break the rules.

Also, symptoms of conduct disorder may be mild, moderate or severe:


If your child presents with mild symptoms, this means that there are few or no behavioural problems in addition to those that are necessary to establish the diagnosis. Conduct issues cause relatively small damage to others. Common problems include lying, being absent and staying out at night without parental permission.


Your child presents with moderate symptoms if he presents with numerous behavioural problems. These conduct problems can have minor to serious consequences for other people. Issues may include vandalism and robbery.


Your child has serious symptoms if they have more behavioural problems than are required for diagnosis. These conduct issues cause substantial harm to others. Issues can include rape, use of a gun or breaking and entering.

What Causes Conduct Disorder?

Genetic and environmental factors can play a role in the development of conduct disorders.

Genetic Causes

Frontal lobe injury in the brain was related to conduct disorder. The frontal lobe is the portion of the brain that regulates major cognitive abilities, These include problem solving, memory and emotional expression. It’s the center of your personality, too. The frontal lobe of a person with a conduct disability may not function properly, which may result in, but is not limited to:

  • poor impulse control.
  • Limited ability to plan for future actions.
  • Reduced capability to learn from the past negative experiences

Frontal lobe impairment can be genetic, or hereditary, or it can be caused by brain damage as a result of an injury. A child can also inherit personality features which are commonly seen in conduct disorder.

Environmental Factors

Environmental associated with conduct disorder include the following:

  • poverty
  • child abuse
  • dysfunctional family
  • parents who are addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Who Is at Risk for Conduct Disorder?

These factors can increase your child’s risk for development conduct disorder:

  • being male
  • living in an urban community.
  • living in poor conditions.
  • with a familial background of conduct disorder
  • a history of mental illness in the family.
  • have other mental health problems.
  • have parents who are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
  • have a dysfunctional family atmosphere.
  • with a history of traumatic events.
  • being mistreated and neglected.

How Is Conduct Disorder Diagnosed?

If your child shows evidence of conduct disorders, they should be assessed by a mental health professional. They will ask you and your child questions about their behaviours in order to diagnose them. To be diagnosed with a conduct disorder, your child must have a tendency to exhibit at least three behaviours that are common to the behavioural conduct disorder. Your child must also have exhibited at least one of the behaviours during the last six months. Behavioural problems must also greatly affect your child’s social or school.

How Is Conduct Disorder Treated?

Children with conduct disorder who live in homes of violence may be placed in alternative homes. In the absence of violence, your child’s mental health care provider will use behavioural or speech therapy to help your child learn to express or control his or her emotions appropriately. You will also learn from a mental health professional how to manage your child’s behaviour. If your child suffers from another mental health condition, such as depression or ADHD, the mental health care provider may also prescribe drugs to treat this condition.

As time is needed to develop new attitudes and behaviour, children with conduct disorder generally require long-term care and treatment. But early treatment can slow the progression of the disease or reduce the severity of negative behaviours.

Long Term Outlook for Children with Conduct Disorder?

The long-term perspective for conduct disorder depends on how serious and frequent your child’s behavioural and emotional problems are. Children who consistently engage in extremely aggressive, deceptive or destructive behaviour tend to have more adverse outcomes. The outlook is also worse when it comes to other mental illnesses.

However, a quick diagnosis and complete treatment can greatly enhance your child’s prospects. Once the treatment has been given for the behavioural conduct disorder and any other underlying condition, your child is much more likely to experience considerable improvement and hope for a more prosperous future.

If left untreated, your child may experience permanent problems. They may not be able to adjust to adult requirements, which can lead to problems with their relationships and employment. They are also at a greater risk of substance abuse and law enforcement problems.

Your child may even suffer from a personality disorder, like anti-social personality disorder, when they become adults. As a result, early diagnosis and treatment are essential. The sooner your child gets treatment, the better his or her prospects for the future.

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