ADHD and Conduct Disorder

By Eileen Bailey

Conduct Disorder is often confused with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, however, both have distinct characteristics.  Children and adolescents with Conduct Disorder are described by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry as having “great difficulty following rules and behaving in a socially acceptable manner. They are often viewed by other children, adults and social agencies as “bad” or delinquent, rather than mentally ill.”

Conduct Disorder is considered to be one of the most difficult mental illnesses of childhood. The National Institute of Mental Health puts the number of children with ADHD that may develop Conduct Disorder at between 20 percent and 40 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD. Research has shown that children that do not receive early and comprehensive treatment have problems that are ongoing into adulthood. They may have a hard time holding a job, show aggression, act antisocially and break laws.

Although it can be hereditary, other factors that may cause Conduct Disorder include:

  • Brain Damage
  • Child Abuse
  • School Failure
  • Traumatic Experiences

Children with Conduct Disorder often are distrustful and fearful of adults and authority figures and therefore treatment becomes much more challenging. However, behavioral therapy and psychotherapy are often an essential part of treatment. One of the major parts of treatment is learning how to control and appropriately express anger.  Medications used are normally those that are used to treat co-existing conditions such as ADHD or Depression. 

Children and Adolescents with Conduct Disorder often show aggression by:

  • Bullying, threatening or harming other children
  • Getting into frequent physical altercations
  • Causing destruction of property, can include arson
  • Being physically cruel to animals

In addition to aggression, children with Conduct Disorder often do not follow rules, either their parents or rules of society by:

  • Skipping school
  • Running away from home
  • Staying out late at night, even when parents set curfews
  • Breaking into someone’s house or car
  • Stealing items, with or without a confrontation
  • Lying

It is imperative for parents to seek medical help early if they feel their child may be exhibiting symptoms of Conduct Disorder.  Without treatment children have a higher risk of continued antisocial behavior, drug or alcohol abuse and possibly going to jail.

Sources:

Conduct Disorder, July 2004, American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, 2007, National Institute of Mental Health

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