Studies have shown that children and adolescents with conduct disorder appear to have impairment in the frontal lobe of the brain. This interferes with their ability to plan, avoid harm and learn from negative experiences, and is thought to be a major cause of the conduct disorder.
Impairment of the frontal lobe may be genetic or inherited, or caused by brain damage from trauma. A child may also inherit personality traits characteristic of the behavioral disorder.
There are also many environmental, psychological and social factors that are associated with conduct disorder. These are: child abuse, a dysfunctional family, parents who abuse drugs or alcohol, living in poverty, poor nutrition. All of this can increase a child's risk of developing a conduct disorder.
Many children and teens with conduct disorder have close relatives with mental illnesses, including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, and personality disorders. This suggests that the propensity for conduct disorder may be at least partially inherited.
Conduct disorder is more common in boys than in girls. It is also more likely to develop in children or adolescents from dysfunctional families:
Children with these mental health problems are also more prone to conduct disorder:
- Mood or anxiety disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Substance abuse
- Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Learning problems
Children or teens who are considered to have a difficult temperament are more likely to develop behavior problems.
A child psychiatrist or qualified mental health professional can make a diagnosis of conduct disorder. He or she will talk to parents and teachers about your child's behavior and may observe your child. In some cases, your child may need a psychiatric evaluation. You can take a mental health assessment online if you notice symptoms of conduct disorder in your child or teen. Early treatment can often prevent future problems.
To be diagnosed with a conduct disorder, your child must have at least three behaviors that are characteristic of a conduct disorder.
In addition, your child must have had at least one of these behaviors within the last 6 months. The behavior problems must also have made a significant difference in your child's social standing or performance in school.
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.
Treatment for conduct disorder may include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy. A child learns how to better solve problems, communicate, and handle stress. He or she also learns how to control impulses and anger.
- Family therapy. This therapy helps make changes in the family. It improves communication skills and family interactions.
- Peer group therapy. A child develops better social and interpersonal skills.
- Medicines. These are not often used to treat conduct disorder. But a child may need them for other symptoms or disorders, such as ADHD.