Signs & Symptoms of Conduct Disorder in Adolescents

Understanding Conduct Disorder

Learn about conduct disorder

Conduct disorder describes a pattern of aggressive behavior that consistently violates societal norms and age-appropriate conduct. Although conduct disorder is diagnosable at all ages, it is most often diagnosed in those under the age of 16. There are two types of diagnoses: childhood-onset type and adolescent-onset type. For childhood-onset type, symptoms typically occur before the age of 10; for adolescent-onset type, symptoms are relatively absent until age 10 or older. If left untreated, symptoms of the disorder for those diagnosed with childhood-onset type typically worsen as the child gets older. Meanwhile, for adolescent-onset type diagnoses, the symptoms tend to go into remission by the time the individual becomes an adult. A diagnosis of conduct disorder usually occurs when an individual displays at least three of the following 15 criteria within a year or one criterion in six months:

Aggression to People and Animals

  • Bullies people
  • Instigates verbal arguments or fist fights
  • Has been known to use weapons against other people or animals (i.e., a bat, a knife, a gun)
  • Has stolen from someone
  • Has been physically aggressive to another person
  • Has been violent toward animals
  • Has forced someone into sexual activity

Destruction of Property

  • Has participated in arson
  • Has intentionally destroyed another person’s property
  • Deceitfulness or Theft
  • Has broken into a person’s car, house, building, etc.
  • Frequently lies or deceives others
  • Has stolen items in a non-violent manner (i.e., shoplifting)

Serious Violations of Rules

  • Starting before age 13, often disobeys parents or other authority figures (i.e., staying out past curfew, breaking rules, etc.)
  • Has run away overnight at least two times or one time for a significant length of time
  • Starting before age 13, frequently misses school

The symptoms of conduct disorder often negatively impact an individual’s home life, schoolwork, employment status, and interpersonal relationships. A person who has conduct disorder often damages meaningful relationships because the behavior associated with the disorder can disturb harmony, break trust, and inflict pain on others. Alienation and isolation are some of the biggest effects of conduct disorder.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of conduct disorder

Conduct disorder is recognized by certain signs and symptoms, and the impact on others can range anywhere from mild (i.e., lying, manipulation), to moderate (i.e., stealing, vandalism), to severe (i.e., sexual assault, using a weapon on another person). No matter the severity, the symptoms of conduct disorder not only impact your child, but also all the people your child interacts with. As a parent, it’s especially important that you stay aware of the following signs and symptoms of conduct disorder:

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Frequently displays violent or aggressive behavior
  • Makes crude, racist, or sexually explicit jokes
  • Deliberately attempts to annoy others
  • Argumentative with others
  • Initiates physical fights
  • Frequently plays with or uses weapons (i.e., slingshots, knives, guns, etc.)
  • Purposely sets things on fire
  • Is intentionally cruel to animals or people
  • Frequently loses their temper
  • Has forced someone to do sexual things for them/with them
  • School truancy
  • Deliberately hostile toward others

Mental Symptoms:

  • Poor impulse control
  • Vindictive
  • Angry, irritable mood
  • Easily bothered, annoyed, or provoked
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Often does not display guilt or sorrow over their offensive behavior
  • Lacks empathy, compassion, or remorse

Effects

Effects of conduct disorder

Short-Term Effects:

Conduct disorder should be professionally treated immediately, as it does not just “go away” on its own. Certain short-term effects can develop if conduct disorder is not treated. Please keep in mind that although these effects are labeled “short-term,” it does not mean that these effects are not severe or will go away on their own. As a parent, if you start to notice any of the following effects in your child, please take your child to seek immediate treatment:

  • Relationship problems (including friends, family members, and romantic partners)
  • Failing grades
  • Frequent detention or suspension from school
  • Bullying
  • Family conflict
  • Social isolation
  • Poor performance at job due to losing temper
  • Drug or alcohol experimentation due to poor impulse control
  • Minor physical injuries from engaging in violent behavior
  • Self-harm

Long-Term Effects:

If treatment for conduct disorder is still not pursued, your child is at further risk of suffering from potential long-term effects. These effects are more severe in nature and can do considerable damage to your child’s school work, job status, and interpersonal relationships. The signs and symptoms of conduct disorder can escalate quickly, as can the consequences of untreated and unaddressed behavior. Some of the potential long-term effects of conduct disorder might include:

  • Physical injuries to self and others due to violent behavior
  • Increasing medical bills
  • Family strife
  • Relationship loss (including friendships and romantic partners)
  • School expulsion
  • Sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy from risky sexual behavior
  • Chronic unemployment
  • Addiction
  • Legal problems due to destruction of property or physical aggression to people or animals
  • Financial difficulties
  • Imprisonment

Conduct disorder can prove so damaging that if ultimately left untreated, your child can end up in prison due to physical or sexual aggression, violence toward people and/or animals, and/or property damage. That’s why professional treatment for conduct disorder is so heavily advised.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Conduct disorder and co-occurring disorders

People with conduct disorder can develop certain co-occurring disorders, or other mental health disorders at the same time. The timing of co-occurring disorders with conduct disorder varies, but treatment for any and all mental health disorders is strongly encouraged. These are some of the disorders that commonly co-occur among people who experience conduct disorder:

  • Substance use disorders (addiction)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders

Appropriately named, conduct disorder is related to one’s conduct, or behavior, with others. Conduct disorder greatly impairs an individual’s daily functioning and ability to build and maintain healthy relationships. The effects of untreated conduct disorder can forever change the fate of someone’s life — whether it be the person with the diagnosis or the individual impacted by the disorder’s symptoms. But successful treatment for conduct disorder is possible. Someone with conduct disorder often does not have the social skills or impulse control to positively interact with others and minimize distressing relational issues. At Southstone Behavioral Health in South Boston, Virginia, adolescents and teens can learn to manage the effects of conduct disorder. Treatment for conduct disorder often focuses on teaching the individual how to handle conflict in a non-violent manner; how to ask for what you want peacefully; how to control your impulses; and how to build empathy for others.