Conduct Disorder



Conduct disorder (CD) is an emotional and behavioral disorder. Children violate the rights of others or major norms of society. CD can make it hard to follow rules. They tend to be behave in a way that isn’t socially acceptable for their age.


There isn't a certain cause for CD. One or both of these may be linked to it:

  • Brain damage
  • Genetics
Prefrontal Cortex
Prefrontal cortex brain
This area of the brain is associated with appropriate social behavior. A combination of genetics affecting this area and life experiences may cause conduct disorder.
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Risk Factors

CD is most common in boys younger aged 7 to 18 years old.

The chances of CD are also higher for:

  • Prior child abuse
  • Problems with how the family works
  • Having substance misuse problems in the family
  • Failing in school



CD may cause your child to:

  • Lack care or empathy
  • Bully
  • Fight
  • Use weapons
  • Be cruel to people or animals
  • Steal or lie
  • Force sex acts on others
  • Destroy property on purpose
  • Violate rules
  • Start fires


You will be asked about your child’s symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. Your child may need psychiatric testing. CD is based on how your child acts with others and within social norms.



Care involves one or more of these:

  • Parent training—Experts can help parents learn to control their child’s problems.
  • Counseling—Children learn how to express and control their anger within social norms. It may be alone or with a group.
  • Medicines may not be used right away, but can help with treating:
    • Aggressive behavior
    • Restlessness
    • Mood swings
    • Depression


If you think your child has problems, talk to their doctor. Finding and treating them early will help lower the chances of problems getting worse as they get older.

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.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.


American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 

Mental Health America 


Canadian Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 

Canadian Mental Health Association 


Conduct disorder. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry website. Available at: Updated June 2018. Accessed August 28, 2018.

Conduct disorder. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  . Updated March 6, 2017. Accessed August 28, 2018.

Conduct disorder. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Updated February 2017. Accessed August 28, 2018.

Holmes SE, Slaughter JR, Kashani J. Risk factors in childhood that lead to the development of conduct disorder and antisocial personality disorder. Child Psych Hum Dev. 2001;31:183-193.