Causes Of Conduct Disorder

All children tend to have behavior related issues from time to time during the developmental years. However, persistent abnormal or harmful behavior, that lasts for long periods (months to years) may be signs of conduct disorder. Conduct disorder is a serious mental health disorder that affects the behavior and emotions of children and adolescents. Individuals with conduct disorder are prone to violent outbursts and have difficulties adhering to rules and authority, as well as problems controlling their behavior as it relates to their emotions. Individuals with conduct disorder are also more likely to have low self-esteem and are at higher risk for substance abuse. Learn about the major causes of conduct disorder now.



Studies show genetics play an important role in the development of conduct disorder. Most children and teens who develop conduct disorder also have a relative with the disorder. Carriers of the GABRA1, MAOA, SLC6A4, and AVPR1A genes are considered at higher risk for developing conduct disorder in later childhood. Individuals with a family history of conditions such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder are also at an increased risk. Outside of the genetic inheritance of these genes, individuals may also inherit the personality traits common to conduct disorder, therefore making them highly at risk for developing the disorder later in childhood.

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Frontal Lobe Damage


Research indicates there is causality between frontal lobe damage to the brain and the development of conduct disorder. This area of the brain controls many complex functions such as personality, the ability to solve complex problems, express emotion in a non-deviant manner and memory. When the frontal lobe obtains damage, individuals lose their ability to control their impulses efficiently and may react to negative experiences in a socially and personally destructive manner. Damage can occur through brain trauma, such as an injury during a fall or accident, or individuals may be born with frontal lobe damage.

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Dysfunctional Family Environment


Outside of a genetic predisposition, a dysfunctional family environment is one of the primary triggers for conduct disorder. Traumatic events occurring in early childhood development, such as physical or emotional abuse or substance abuse by a parent, witnessing acrimony and fighting between parents or emotional and physical neglect can result in the onset of conduct disorder. Children tend to mimic the behavior and experiences they are exposed to and needed to be guided towards non-deviant and socially acceptable behaviors. Individuals with conduct disorder who are consistently exposed to dysfunction within their home may need to engage not only in individual therapy to treat the conduct disorder, but also in family therapy to address the root of the dysfunction and help the family learn positive behaviors and parenting techniques.

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Some studies indicate there is a link between socioeconomic status and the development of conduct disorder. Individuals living in poverty are at a slightly higher risk for developing conduct disorder than individuals living in higher socioeconomic conditions. Researchers hypothesize the reason for the increase is due to the psychological damage living in impoverished conditions can cause a child. Experiences such as food insecurity, homelessness, and poor health can lead to family dysfunction and childhood trauma, both of which increase the likelihood of developing conduct disorder. Research indicates individuals from low-income families are less likely to have access to social supports and quality mental health care, therefore identifying conduct disorder may be delayed.

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Other Psychiatric Disorders


Often, individuals diagnosed with conduct disorder typically also have co-occurring other psychiatric disorders. Individuals with depression, anxiety, as well as personality and bipolar disorders, have an increased risk of also developing conduct disorder. Individuals with addiction disorders are also likely to develop conduct disorder. This primarily occurs in individuals who develop it in adolescence. Co-occurring addictive disorders are also more like to appear in females. Other psychiatric disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder, and intermittent explosive disorder are also risk factors for developing conduct disorder. Individuals with conduct disorder also tend to have learning disorder as well, such as auditory processing disorder (difficulty hearing and interpreting sound), dysgraphia (difficulty writing), and dyscalculia (difficulty understanding and learning math facts).


    HealthPrep Staff