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Conduct Disorder

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Conduct Disorder


Conduct disorder (CD) is an emotional and behavioral problem. It affects children and adolescents. Those who have it are disruptive and lack concern for others.

Treatment may help reduce problems.


The cause of conduct disorder is not known. It may be due to a mix of genetics and the environment.

Prefrontal Cortex.

This area of the brain that is linked to social behavior.

Prefrontal cortex brainhttp://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=72987298si2047.jpgsi2047.jpgNULLjpgsi2047.jpgNULL\\hgfiler01a\intellect\images\si2047.jpgNULL29NULL2008-11-072614007298_222865Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

Conduct disorder is more common in boys.

Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Family members with antisocial behavior
  • A birth parent who used alcohol, smoked, or had a poor diet while pregnant
  • Being around violence
  • Past child abuse
  • Having parents with:
    • Mental health problems
    • Substance misuse issues
    • Relationship problems
    • Had legal problems
    • Poor parenting skills


A child or adolescent with conduct disorder may:

  • Lack care or empathy for others
  • Bully others or cause fights
  • Use weapons
  • Be cruel to people or animals
  • Steal or lie
  • Force sex acts on others
  • Harm things that belong to others on purpose
  • Break rules
  • Start fires


The doctor will ask about the child’s symptoms, past health, and behavior. A physical exam will be done. A mental health exam may also be done. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.


The goal is to stop problem behaviors. Options may include:

  • Parent training
  • Individual or group therapy—to help children learn to control emotions
  • Medicines (may be used with other treatments)—to manage certain symptoms, such as mood swings

Multiple treatments are often used.


Early care for emotional and behavioral problems may lower the risk of conduct disorder.





  • Blair RJ, Leibenluft E, et al. Conduct disorder and callous-unemotional traits in youth. N Engl J Med. 2014;371(23):2207-2216.
  • Conduct disorder. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry website. Available at: https://www.aacap.org/aacap/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Conduct-Disorder-033.aspx.
  • Conduct disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/conduct-disorder.
  • Conduct disorder. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pediatrics/mental-disorders-in-children-and-adolescents/conduct-disorder.


  • Adrian Preda, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.