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ParentsTeensWhat is conduct disorder?

We hear so many labels these days with teenagers, ADD, ADHD, ODD, bipolar – there is always family conflict and I frequently am asked about conduct disorder.

Conduct disorder is a set of ongoing emotional and behavioral problems that occurs in children and teens. Problems may involve defiant or impulsive behavior, drug use, or criminal activity.

What causes conduct disorder?

Conduct disorder has been linked to:

  • Child abuse
  • Drug or alcohol abuse in the parents
  • Family conflicts
  • Genetic defects
  • Poverty

The diagnosis is more common among boys.

It is hard to know how common the disorder is. This is because many of the qualities for diagnosis, such as “defiance” and “rule breaking,” are hard to define. For a diagnosis of conduct disorder, the behavior must be much more extreme than is socially acceptable.

Conduct disorder is often linked to attention-deficit disorder. Conduct disorder also can be an early sign of depression or bipolar disorder.

ConductDisorderWhat are some of the symptoms?

Children with conduct disorder tend to be impulsive, hard to control, and not concerned about the feelings of other people.

Symptoms may include:

  • Breaking rules without clear reason
  • Cruel or aggressive behavior toward people or animals (for example: bullying, fighting, using dangerous weapons, forcing sexual activity, and stealing)
  • Not going to school (truancy — beginning before age 13)
  • Heavy drinking and/or heavy drug abuse
  • Intentionally setting fires
  • Lying to get a favor or avoid things they have to do
  • Running away
  • Vandalizing or destroying property

These children often make no effort to hide their aggressive behaviors. They may have a hard time making real friends.

How can parents treat conduct disorder?

Treatment for conduct disorder is based on many factors, including the child’s age, the severity of symptoms, as well as the child’s ability to participate in and tolerate specific therapies. Treatment usually consists of a combination of the following:

  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy (a type of counseling) is aimed at helping the child learn to express and control anger in more appropriate ways. A type of therapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy aims to reshape the child’s thinking (cognition) to improve problem solving skills, anger management, moral reasoning skills, and impulse control. Family therapy may be used to help improve family interactions and communication among family members. A specialized therapy technique called parent management training (PMT) teaches parents ways to positively alter their child’s behavior in the home.
  • Medication: Although there is no medication formally approved to treat conduct disorder, various drugs may be used to treat some of its distressing symptoms, as well as any other mental illnesses that may be present, such as ADHD or major depression.

Sources: A.D.A.M. Health, WedMD

If you feel you have exhausted your local resources, your teen is shutting down in therapy, out-patient isn’t working, please contact us for information regarding quality residential therapy.

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