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What Is Conduct Disorder? Signs and Treatment


teen with conduct disorder

Adolescence is a time when a young person learns about his or her true self through experimentation, pushing boundaries, and by being faced with enduring unavoidable experiences. Due to the highly volatile and emotional nature of teenagers, it can be difficult to distinguish between typical teenage behavior and an indication that something may be awry. The Child Mind Institute explains “Conduct disorder is a severe condition characterized by hostile and sometimes physically violent behavior and a disregard for others.” Though the specific cause for the development of conduct disorder remains unknown, research points to a combination of genetic, psychological, and environmental factors. Some neurologists believe that it is related to impairment of the frontal lobe of the brain.  

Signs and Symptoms

According to Nationwide Children’s Hospital there are four basic types of behavior that characterize conduct disorder, which include: physical aggression, lying or manipulation, violating other’s rights, and delinquent behaviors. It is helpful to be aware of specific signs of conduct disorder that fall under these categories, which could include, but are not limited to following examples provided by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry:

  • Bullying or threatening behavior
  • Cruelty toward people and/ or animals
  • Fire-setting
  • Truancy
  • Breaking curfew
  • Lying
  • Trespassing
  • Cheating
  • Stealing
  • Vandalism 
  • Emotionally or physically abusive behaviors

Many young people with conduct disorder have difficulty showing emotion toward others, including expressing empathy or remorse. It is not uncommon for a teen with conduct disorder to misinterpret the actions of others and escalate a situation by responding in a combative manner. There are many treatment options for a teen with conduct disorder. 


The treatment for conduct disorder will be unique to everyone, as a young person’s treatment plan will depend on a variety of contributing factors (e.g., the age of the individual, the presenting symptoms, any co-morbid disorders, etc.). At Pacific Teen Treatment, for example, we offer a residential treatment program and work with each of our residents to create tailored treatment plans. Our goal is to help our residents learn healthy tools in our program that will benefit them far beyond the scope of our program. We believe that being fully immersed in our treatment program will help to realign some of the unhelpful habits and patterns that were created prior to their arrival. 

Focusing on daily obligations and chores, while offering a variety of therapeutic modalities, healthy eating, carving out time to exercise, and providing ample sleep are essential aspects of our program. We feel it is important to have our residents practice making positive and healthy choices, regularly, to instill a routine that will benefit them in the future. We are also able to accommodate young people’s educational needs, for those that may require it. If there is any concern that your child may be struggling with conduct disorder, the first step is to contact your child’s physician, for an evaluation. If left untreated, conduct disorder can lead to damaging and in some cases dangerous consequences.

For Information and Support

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives.

Our admissions team is available to answer any general questions regarding mental health issues, treatment, and/or specific questions about the program at Pacific Teen Treatment and how we might be able to help your family. We can be reached by phone 24/7 at 800-531-5769. You can also contact us via email at

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