Conduct Disorder: Symptoms, treatment and prevention

What is Conduct Disorder?

Persistent and repetitive display of behaviours reported in children and adolescents where the fundamental social rights of others are violated is known as conduct disorder.

Conduct Disorder

Such children or adolescents show such patterns of behaviour in a wide array of scenarios which can be in social settings, home or school and lead to impairment of their academic, social and family functioning. These problems can include impulsive or defiant behaviour, drug use or criminal activity. Conduct disorder is more common in males than females.

An Indian study, reported the prevalence of conduct disorder in boys to be 4.58% and another review said its incidence to be 11.13%.

Conduct disorder causes and risk factors

This disorder has been linked to:

  • Brain damage
  • Genetics
  • Abuse in childhood
  • Alcohol or drug abuse by parents
  • Family problems (conflicts)
  • Poverty

Often, this disorder is associated with the attention-deficit disorder. Further, this disorder can be an early indicator of depression or bipolar disorder.

Conduct disorder symptoms

Children with this disorder are

  • Hard to control
  • Impulsive
  • Unconcerned about others feelings

 The symptoms usually include:

  • Aggressive or cruel behaviour towards animals or people
  • Truancy (reported before they are 13 years of age)
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Drug abuse
  • Lying
  • Vandalising
  • Running away
  • Stealing
  • Forceful sexual activity
  • Serious violation of rules

The subtypes of Conduct Disorder include:

  • Childhood-Onset Type: Its onset occurs before the age of 10 years.  Usually, it is reported in males, with a display of aggression physically and disturbed relationships with their peers.
  • Adolescent-Onset Type: There is an absence of any characteristics of conduct disorder before the age of 10 here. Unlike, the childhood-onset type, these people are less aggressive and have normative relationships with their peers.

Conduct disorder diagnosis

It is diagnosed when a child or teen presents with a history of conduct disorder behaviours. A mental health provider will take the inputs from the parents and teachers of the child based on DSM-IV criterion.

Very rarely, a brain scan is done for ruling out other disorders. For ruling out medical conditions similar to conduct disorder, physical examination and blood tests can be performed.

Conduct disorder treatment and prevention


The treatment in children must be initiated at the earliest. Psychotherapy and behaviour therapy is usually needed to help the child express and control their anger appropriately.

The family has to play an active role in the treatment for the effective management of the child’s behaviour. Studies have reported treatment at home to be a useful measure.

If the cause is child abuse at home, the child is moved to a place with less chaos.

Talk therapy and medicines can be prescribed if ADHD or depression is found.


It might not always be possible to prevent it. Early detection and treatment can help the child to learn adaptive behaviours and avoid potential complications.

Conduct disorder read more


The potential complications include:

Talking to your teen son about sex

Next Steps

Create a homely atmosphere for kids to learn and study ways to manage them at home. Seek professional help if required.

Consult a top Psychiatrist

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  • Shastri PC, Shastri JP, Shastri D. Research in child and adolescent psychiatry in India. Indian Journal of Psychiatry. 2010;52 (Suppl1):S219-S223.
  • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 4th ed. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 1994:78–85.
  • Conduct Disorder Symptoms. PsychCentral. http://psychcentral.com/disorders/conduct-disorder-symptoms/. Accessed 18 October 2016.
  • Conduct Disorder. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Conduct-Disorder-033.aspx. Accessed 18 October 2016.

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