Conduct Disorder Symptoms & Effects

Learn how to recognize the signs, symptoms, and effects of conduct disorder. Resource Treatment Center provides comprehensive mental health and psychiatric treatment for youth who are suffering from conduct disorder.

Understanding Conduct Disorder

Learn about conduct disorder

Conduct disorder, a serious behavioral and emotional mental health disorder, occurs in children and adolescents and can cause a great deal of disruption in their life. This disorder is associated with a pattern of disruptive and violent behaviors as well as a hard time following rules that have been set for them. Additionally, it is not uncommon for those with conduct disorder to violate the rights of others, go against accepted social norms of behavior, and disrupt family life.

While all children will act out at times, the distinction is that the behavior of those with conduct disorder is longer lasting and creates significant problems for the child on a daily basis. Additionally, children with conduct disorder do not know how their behavior can hurt others and usually don’t have any remorse about hurting others. The behaviors that are present in a child with conduct disorder tend to occur frequently and consistent across a variety of settings. The negative consequences of this disorder, if not addressed properly, can result in a child’s eventual placement in the juvenile justice system or schools for youth with emotional disturbances. The good news is that there are effective treatment options available for conduct disorder that can reduce symptoms and minimize the potential lasting effects for those struggling with this mental illness.


Conduct disorder statistics

It is estimated that 2-16% of children have conduct disorder in the United States. Additionally, conduct disorder is much more common in boys than in girls and tends to occur more often in late childhood or early adolescence.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for conduct disorder

It is still not known what exactly causes conduct disorder, but it is a commonly held belief that it is a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychosocial factors. Some of the most common explanations include the following:

Genetic: It has been determined that many children who have conduct disorder have family members with mental health illnesses, which suggests that being vulnerable to developing conduct disorder may be partially inherited.

Physical: Through multiple neuroimaging studies scientists have observed functional and structural differences in the brain of those with conduct disorder. Conduct disorder has been linked to regions in the brain involved in regulating behavior, impulse control, and emotion. When the neural circuits in these regions don’t work properly conduct order symptoms may occur. Additionally, studies have found that injuries to certain areas of the brain can lead to behavior disorders.

Environmental: The environment in which a person is raised, as well as certain life experiences, is known to contribute to the development of conduct disorder. Neglect, abuse, or other negative parental interactions are said to greatly affect the onset of conduct disorder symptoms. Additionally, inconsistent parenting, being from a large family, having a caregiver with a criminal history, exposure to trauma, and being rejected by peers can also contribute to an eventual diagnosis of conduct disorder.    

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Family history of conduct disorder or other mental illness
  • Problems with moral awareness
  • Deficits in cognitive processing
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Not being accepted by peers
  • Preexisting mental illness
  • Family history of criminal activity
  • Residing in an urban setting
  • Exposure to abuse, neglect, or other traumas

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of conduct disorder

The symptoms displayed by a child with conduct disorder are going to vary depending on each child and the level of severity of the disorder. When talking about symptoms for conduct disorder it is common for them to be categorized into four different categories. These categories and associated symptoms include:

Aggressive behavior:

  • Fighting
  • Causes or threatens physical harm
  • Bullying
  • Being cruel to others or animals
  • Using weapons
  • Forcing another to engage in sexual activity
  • Excessively irritable 

Destructive behavior:

  • Destruction of property
  • Arson
  • Vandalism 

Deceitful behavior:

  • Repeated lying
  • Shoplifting
  • Breaking into homes or cars 

Violation of rules:

  • Going against accepted rules of society
  • Engaging in behavior that is not appropriate for child’s age
  • Running away
  • Skipping school
  • Playing pranks
  • Being sexually active at young age


Effects of conduct disorder

Children who are struggling with conduct disorder need to get professional treatment as soon as possible in order to help prevent further damage. If not properly treated the symptoms of conduct disorder will only get worse and can lead to bigger problems down the road. The following are examples of effects of untreated conduct disorder:

  • Higher risk for developing another mental health disorder
  • School related problems such as failing or dropping out
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Legal problems
  • Engaging in sexual behaviors at an earlier age
  • Injury to self or others
  • Sexually transmitted diseases / infections
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Increased risk for the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases / infections
  • Unplanned pregnancy
  • Engaging in risky behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

Conduct disorder and co-occurring disorders

When someone has a diagnosis of conduct disorder, it is possible to have another mental health condition at the same time. The listed mental health conditions are commonly present in those with conduct disorder:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Learning disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Communication disorders
  • Bipolar disorder

I always felt so misunderstood, but at Resource it was like someone finally took the time to get to know me. That made a huge difference. This place helped me so much.