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08-04 Antisocial adolescents: Conduct disorder and other early indicators

Antisocial adolescents: Conduct disorder and other early indicators

Antisocial personality disorder affects approximately 1 percent of the U.S. adult population and is more likely to affect men than women, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) states that a diagnosis for this specific disorder cannot be made until the age of 18, but the onset of signs and symptoms related to antisocial personality disorder is early adolescence. Individuals with this disorder are likely to manipulate and exploit the emotions and rights of other individuals with little or no remorse. Picking up on early indicators of antisocial personality disorder and its relationship to alcohol abuse can result in early diagnosis and treatment of young adults struggling with the condition.

In order for a personality disorder to be diagnosed, there must be an established pattern of behavior. Antisocial personality disorder is not diagnosed until adulthood to ensure that the pattern of behavior is not the result of natural developmental changes a child or teenager undergoes. This disorder is characterized by pathological personality traits including, but not limited to, deceitfulness, callousness, irritability, impulsivity, risk-taking and manipulative nature. Another trademark characteristic of antisocial individuals is lack of empathy, referred to in the DSM-5 in this context as a “lack of concern for feelings, needs or suffering of others; lack of remorse after hurting or mistreating another.”

Children and teenagers who have been diagnosed with or exhibit signs of conduct disorder are more likely than the general population to have antisocial personality disorder. Conduct disorder is diagnosed by the presence of three or more behaviors in one year out of a list of delinquent actions outlined by the DSM-5. These actions include being physically cruel to animals, forcing another person into sexual activity and setting fires with the intention of inflicting damage to a person or property. Each case of antisocial personality disorder is different but symptoms typically peak during an individual’s late teens and early adulthood, then decrease with age.

The exact cause of antisocial personality disorder is unknown. However, the U.S. National Library of Medicine reports that the disorder likely stems from a combination of genetics, environment and psychological factors. Dr. Duncan B. Clark’s publication entitled “Childhood Antisocial Behavior and Adolescent Alcohol Use Disorders” explores the idea of antisocial behavior throughout childhood as an indicator of future alcohol abuse and/or addiction during teenage years. Clark finds a strong correlation between the two based on his analysis of multiple studies, noting that both conditions appear to have similarly contributing genetic and environmental factors.

Individuals with antisocial personality disorder often do not seek treatment, as they do not see how it affects their daily lives. The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that these individuals also often find it difficult to connect with therapists, making psychotherapy less effective. As Dr. Thomas R. Lynch of Duke University states, “[Individuals with] personality disorders exhibit chronic, pervasive problems getting along with people… And this includes therapists.” Research on the effectiveness of psychotherapy and prescription medications on individuals with antisocial personality disorder is limited. However, recent studies on the effectiveness of dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) on individuals with borderline personality disorder indicate that DBT has the potential to be effective in treating personality disorders. Due to the nature of the condition, many individuals with antisocial personality disorder end up involved in criminal activity. In these cases, treatment is often court-mandated.

If you or your child is exhibiting behaviors indicative of conduct disorder and/or antisocial personality disorder, help is available. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego is a facility that specializes in the treatment of adolescents and teenagers struggling with mental health disorders, substance abuse and dual diagnosis. Call 866-615-7266 to speak with a professional about your treatment options today.

Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer

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