Conduct disorder is often confused with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). However, conduct disorder is typically considered to be the more serious of the two disorders. Individuals with conduct disorder are often described as lacking empathy- they simply have a very difficult time understanding or even caring for that matter how their behavior(s) may physically or emotionally hurt others. This callous disregard for others often begins with pushing, hitting, and biting in early childhood to later progressing to bullying, cruelty, and violence in adolescence. Children and adolescents with conduct disorder display a repetitive and persistent display of behavior in which they are violating the rights of others and basic social rules. These behaviors occur in a variety of settings and cause significant impairment in his or her social, academic, and family functioning.
A key difference between oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder lies in the role of control. Children with oppositional defiant disorder do not like being controlled, so much so that they will fight against it at every opportunity. Children who have either begun to move or already moved into conduct disorder will not only fight against being controlled, but will attempt to control those around them as well. This sort of behavior often looks like them manipulating others to do what they want, taking things that do not belong to them, or using aggression or physical intimidation to control situations.
A lot of parents with children with conduct disorder describe feeling scared- fear of living with their child, fear of disciplining their child, or just fear in general. If this sounds like you or your child, help is available.
Many parents of children with conduct disorder wonder what caused their child to have conduct disorder. This wonder often turns to self-blame, if this sounds familiar, it’s important to keep in mind that there is no one thing you as a parent did to cause your child to have conduct disorder. In fact, the exact cause of conduct disorder is unknown. Instead, many professionals believe that conduct disorder is a combination of biological, genetic, environmental, psychological, and social factors. Biologically speaking, some studies have suggested that defects or injuries to certain parts of the brain can lead to behavior disorders, such as oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder. In other studies, conduct disorder has been linked to particular brain regions involved in regulating behavior, impulse control, and emotion. If the nerve cell circuits of these brain regions do not work properly, symptoms of conduct disorder may begin to develop as a result. Genetically speaking, it has been found that a lot of children and adolescents with conduct disorder have relatives who suffer from mood disorders, anxiety disorders, personality disorder, and substance use disorders; suggesting a possible genetic link. Environmentally speaking, children and adolescents with a dysfunctional family life, history of childhood abuses, traumatic experiences, or inconsistent discipline by parents may contribute to the development of conduct disorder. Psychologically speaking, some professionals believe that conduct disorders can reflect deficits in cognitive processing and problems with moral awareness. Socially speaking, it has been found that children and adolescents with low socioeconomic status and/or not being accepted by their peers seem to be risk factors for the development of conduct disorder.
Furthermore, it has been found that many children and adolescents with conduct disorder typically suffer from other mental illnesses, such as depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorder, learning disorder, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
If you feel that your child or adolescent is displaying many of the symptoms discussed for conduct disorder, it is important to get help as soon as possible. If left untreated, your child may be at an increased risk for failing or dropping out school, substance abuse, legal problems, injuries to self or others due to violent behaviors, incarceration, sexually transmitted diseases, depression, or suicide.