Conduct Disorder Signs & Symptoms

Rolling Hills Hospital helps individuals struggling with conduct disorder build a strong foundation for long-term recovery. Serving Ada, near Oklahoma City, Rolling Hills Hospital is the premier provider of mental health & addiction treatment for adolescents, adults & seniors.

Understanding Conduct Disorder

Learn about Conduct Disorder

When a child or adolescent struggles to control impulses for acting out, destroys property, or acts violently towards others, that child or adolescent is most likely suffering from conduct disorder. A mental health condition that is typically diagnosed in childhood but can carry over into adulthood, conduct disorder involves severely disruptive symptoms that can cause a great deal of destruction to a person’s life. Individuals with this mental illness are likely to have interaction with law enforcement, struggle in school or at work, abuse drugs and/or alcohol, and have difficulty forming healthy relationships with others.

Additionally, individuals battling this mental health condition often have difficulty interpreting actions, mannerisms, or words as non-hostile and frequently resort to aggressive or violent means of handling certain situations. Failing to get treatment for this disorder and have lasting effects and increase a person’s likelihood of developing other mental health disorders and even suicidal ideations leading to attempts. However, there are viable options for care that can reduce these risks and help these individuals learn the skills to manage destructive and impairing symptoms of conduct disorder.


Conduct disorder statistics

Studies on the prevalence of conduct disorder have determined that approximately 4% of children meet diagnostic criteria for a conduct disorder diagnosis. Of that percentage, it has been found that more males present with symptoms of this condition than females. Furthermore, children who suffer from this illness are more likely to come from urban settings as opposed to rural areas. Finally, experts believe that the symptoms of this disorder can carry over into adulthood if treatment is not implemented to cease the problematic symptoms of conduct disorder.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for conduct disorder

The development of conduct disorder is believed to be caused by several contributing factors working together. Mental health professionals agree that a person’s genetics, physiological makeup, and environment can all trigger the onset of symptoms. Additionally, experts have realized some other risk factors that can make a person more susceptible to conduct disorder. Consider the following explanations:

Genetic: Individuals who meet diagnostic criteria for conduct disorder often have a family history of the condition. Research that has examined the prevalence of conduct disorder among members of the same gene pool has ultimately concluded that this mental illness is, in fact, heritable.

Physical: Extensive research on the brains of those with conduct disorder has found that these individuals have altered prefrontal lobes. This area of the brain, of which is responsible for personality, has a different structure when compared to the brain structure of individuals without conduct disorder.

Environmental: It is widely believed by professionals in the field of mental health that the environment in which a person is raised can determine whether or not a person will develop symptoms synonymous with conduct disorder. Additionally, it is believe that certain life experiences are known to contribute to the onset of this mental illness. Poor parental involvement, negative parental interactions involving abuse or neglect, inconsistent parenting, exposure to trauma, being raised in a large family, and having a family history of criminal activity can all make a person more vulnerable to conduct disorder. Lastly, it is believed that peer rejection can also contribute to an eventual diagnosis of this mental illness.   

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Having a person history of mental illness
  • Family history of conduct disorder or other mental health condition
  • Family history of criminal activity
  • Early institutional living
  • Residing in an urban area
  • Exposure to trauma, abuse, and/or neglect
  • Low socioeconomic status

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of conduct disorder

Depending on the person’s age and the severity of symptoms present, the signs that a person is suffering from conduct disorder can vary. Experts have concluded that symptoms of this condition are more severe when they first appear during childhood. If you suspect that you or a loved one is battling conduct disorder, it is important to note and report the presence of any of the following symptoms to a mental health professional.

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Frequent running away from home
  • Bullying
  • Lying
  • Truant from school
  • Missing work
  • Engaging in sexually assaultive behaviors
  • Stealing
  • Destruction of property
  • Being physical violent
  • Uncontrolled acting out
  • Frequent rule or law breaking
  • Instigative behaviors

Physical symptoms:

  • Burns as a result of fire starting
  • Presence of injuries due to violent behaviors and acting out
  • Presences of sexually transmitted diseases or infections due risky sexual behaviors

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor concentration
  • Below average intellect
  • Lack of good decision-making abilities

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Lack of empathy
  • Low self-esteem
  • Low threshold for tolerating people or situations
  • Lack of guilt or remorse
  • False sense of grandiosity
  • Irritability


Effects of conduct disorder

When a person does not seek treatment to alleviate the symptoms of conduct disorder, a number of adverse consequences have the possibility of occurring. Additionally, the symptoms of this disorder can carry over into adulthood if earlier intervention does not take place. The list effects are known to occur when the symptoms of conduct disorder remain present in a person’s life:

  • Poor academic performance
  • Hinder occupational functioning
  • Disciplinary action at school
  • Inability to maintain employment
  • Increased interaction with law enforcement
  • Early onset of sexual behaviors
  • Unplanned pregnancy
  • Exposure to sexually transmitted diseases or infections as a result of engaging in risky sexual behaviors
  • Partaking in dangerous behaviors or activities
  • Substance use, abuse, and the potential for addiction
  • Development of another mental illness

Co-Occurring Disorders

Conduct disorder and co-occurring disorders

Conduct disorder is known to occur alongside other mental health conditions. In part due to the lack of impulse control and fluctuating moods, the following mental disorders can be diagnosed at the same time as a conduct disorder diagnosis:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Substance use disorders
  • Specific learning disorder
  • Communication disorder

So thankful to have made some great friends at Rolling Hills who could understand what I was going through.

– Former Patient