Signs of antisocial personality disorder

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Some people seem to have no regard for others and can cause harm to them without any regret or feelings of guilt. When this behavior is pervasive, a person may have a chronic mental health condition known as antisocial personality disorder. Sometimes people with antisocial personality disorder are called “sociopaths.”

What is a sociopath? People with antisocial personality disorder are willing to use deception or manipulation to get whatever they want, such as power or money. They may con people and use an alias, and they may steal or use aggressive behavior to achieve their desires. Even when caught, they show no regret or guilt. They lack a sense of empathy and cannot consider the feelings of others without help. They also tend to act impulsively, which can lead to arrests and time in prison.

There is a common myth in popular culture that “sociopaths” tend to be successful, charismatic people who hold positions of power. It is true that there are high functioning sociopaths, but they are not the norm. While sociopath path traits can include persuasiveness or charm, most people with the disorder will struggle with irresponsibility. They’re less likely to take advantage of employment opportunities, less likely to pay bills on time, and are at high risk of incarceration due to impulsive behaviors. They’re also likely to have a shorter life expectancy due to impulsive behaviors like substance abuse and criminal activity.

Causes of Antisocial Personality Disorder

What causes antisocial personality disorder? Researchers believe that genetics plays some role, as having a parent with the disorder puts one more at risk. Research on adopted children of parents with the disorder indicates that environment may also be a factor, such as when children receive poor discipline, have negative role models, or are not taught to respect the rights of others. Children of an alcoholic parent are also at increased risk.

Children who have conduct disorder or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder before age 10 are at increased risk for having antisocial personality disorder as adults. This is particularly true for children with conduct disorder who are abused or neglected. Researchers estimate that 25% of girls and 40% of boys with conduct disorder will have antisocial personality disorder as adults.

Antisocial personality disorder occurs in roughly 3% of the U.S. population. The disorder occurs in men 6 times more often than in women. 80% of people with the disorder will have developed symptoms by the age of 11.

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Symptoms of Antisocial Personality Disorder

The most common signs of antisocial personality disorder are a lack of regard for the rights of others and an extensive pattern of violating them.

To receive a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder, a person must exhibit at least three of the following symptoms:

  • Repeatedly performing unlawful acts
  • Lying or conning others for profit or pleasure
  • Acting impulsively
  • Repeated physical fights or assaults
  • Disregard for the safety of oneself or others
  • Irresponsibility at work or in financial obligations
  • Lack of remorse when mistreating others

At What Age Can Antisocial Personality Disorder Be Diagnosed?

A person must be at least 18 years old to receive a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder. There must also be evidence that they qualified for a diagnosis of conduct disorder before the age of 15, as many of the symptoms of the two disorders are similar. A diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder will also not be given if the behaviors occur due to the symptoms of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Treatment for Antisocial Personality Disorder

Treatment for antisocial personality disorder may prove challenging. Because the symptoms of the disorder ten to peak in a person’s early 20s, people may find that symptoms improve on their own as a person reaches their 40s and beyond.

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is usually the treatment recommended for antisocial personality disorder. A therapist can help a person manage negative behaviors and build interpersonal skills they may lack. Often the first goal is simply to reduce impulsive behaviors that can lead to arrest or physical harm. Family therapy might be a useful option to educate family members and improve communication, and group therapy may also help when limited to people with the disorder.

No medications have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat antisocial personality disorder. Medication may sometimes be prescribed to help reduce aggressive or impulsive behaviors. Medications might include mood stabilizers or antidepressants.

Treatment should also address any co-occurring disorders, which often include attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, borderline personality disorder, and impulse control disorders such as gambling disorder or sexual disorders. Because a majority of people with antisocial personality disorder will also have a substance abuse disorder, a person may need to complete detoxification as the first step of treatment, with the substance abuse and personality disorder then treated simultaneously.

Coping When a Loved One Has Antisocial Personality Disorder

If you have a loved one with antisocial personality, it’s common to feel discouraged. Remembering that lack of remorse or empathy is a symptom of the condition can help you set realistic expectations for how your loved one can improve. With treatment, some people with antisocial personality disorder do learn to form positive relationships, be more responsible, and respect the boundaries of others. Others will not, and family members will have to consider how they want to respond to this challenge. One interesting fact is that people with antisocial personality disorder who are married tend to improve over time compared to single people.

If you have a loved one with antisocial personality disorder, make sure that you also prioritize your own health and safety—family members often find it useful to participate in individual counseling themselves to help manage emotions and learn to set appropriate boundaries with the family member.

If you think you might have antisocial personality disorder or have a loved one who does, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor or a mental health professional. They can provide information and connect you with the right resources to help you cope with this challenge.

Article Sources Last Updated: Dec 5, 2018

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People with antisocial personality disorder tend to disregard authority, the law or the rights of other people. They may tell lies, behave aggressively or engage in illegal behaviour such as stealing, drug taking and violence. People with antisocial personality disorder are said to lack remorse or a conscience, and generally do not feel sorry for their actions. They are sometimes called a ‘sociopath’ or a ‘psychopath’.

Antisocial personality disorder symptoms

Some people with antisocial personality disorder are highly successful, intelligent and charming but exploit others for their own personal gain. Others are unable to maintain a job or stable home and end up in prison or in drug or alcohol facilities. They are generally unable to sustain meaningful relationships with others.

People with antisocial personality disorder tend to:

  • fail to respect the law and repeatedly behave illegally
  • lie and deceive others
  • be impulsive and not plan ahead
  • have a lot of fights and be aggressive
  • disregard their own or others’ safety
  • be irresponsible
  • lack remorse and not worry who they have hurt, mistreated or stolen from

Some people may show these behaviours occasionally and learn to overcome them, without having a personality disorder. A personality disorder is a long-term pattern of behaviour, thinking and emotions that causes distress to the person and those around them, and makes it difficult to function in everyday life. People with personality disorders find it hard to change their behaviour or adapt to different situations. They have extreme thoughts and behaviours that make them act in ways they can’t control and make it hard to cope with day-to-day life.

People with antisocial personality disorder often have other mental illnesses as well, including anxiety and depression. They may also misuse alcohol and drugs.

Causes of antisocial personality disorder

The cause of this disorder is not entirely known. Some people with antisocial personality disorder come from families where personality disorders are common. Some come from families where violence and crime are common. Others have had childhoods in which they suffered abuse, trauma, neglect and lack of discipline. Some, however, come from normal and happy families.

How is antisocial personality disorder diagnosed?

A diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder can only be made in an adult, not a child, and should be made only by a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist who gets to know the person over a period of time.

People with antisocial personality disorder often have problems with drugs and alcohol, and with anxiety or depression.

Adults with antisocial personality disorder usually show signs of conduct disorder before they are 15. These include:

  • aggression toward people and animals
  • destroying property
  • being deceitful
  • stealing
  • serious rule-breaking

Treatment for antisocial personality disorder

The main form of treatment for antisocial personality disorder is long-term psychological therapy; however, there is very little research to determine how effective the treatments really are. There are no medicines specifically for antisocial personality disorder, although people are sometimes prescribed mewdicine to control other problems they may have, such as anxiety, depression or aggression.

Where to get help

If you need help, talking to your doctor is a good place to start. If you’d like to find out more or talk to someone else, here are some organisations that can help:

  • SANE Australia (people living with a mental illness) — call 1800 187 263.
  • beyondblue (anyone feeling depressed or anxious) — call 1300 22 4636 or chat online.
  • Black Dog Institute (people affected by mood disorders) — online help.
  • Lifeline (anyone having a personal crisis) — call 13 11 14 or chat online.
  • Suicide Call Back Service (anyone thinking about suicide) — call 1300 659 467.

Recognizing Antisocial Behavior in Adults and Children

Many ASPD behaviors are common in young children who are still learning about and adapting to social boundaries. As a result, children usually aren’t diagnosed with ASPD. Instead, doctors use the term conduct disorder to refer to children who regularly display antisocial behavior.

While many of these behaviors are normal in some children from time to time, it’s best to seek (or rule out) a formal diagnosis as early as possible. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children with conduct disorder do best with early treatment.

1. Rule violation

It’s normal for children to test boundaries before understanding the consequences. They might do this by:

  • running away from home
  • skipping school
  • not coming home on time

However, most children stop doing this once they realize it’ll get them in trouble. Children with conduct disorder often continue to break rules despite understanding the consequences. As they grow older, their rule-breaking behavior might involve more extreme things, such as drug use or theft.

2. Destruction

Children with conduct disorder often display consistently destructive behavior that can be extreme. This includes:

  • spraying graffiti on public buildings
  • breaking into people’s homes
  • stealing property
  • starting fires by playing with matches or lighters

Again, some of these behaviors, such as playing with matches, are generally common in children. However, children with conduct disorder continue doing them even after learning about the dangers their behavior poses to themselves and others.

3. Aggression

Conduct disorder often involves acts of verbal or physical aggression, which can range from mild to severe. These acts might include:

  • physical violence, such as punching and kicking
  • using weapons, such as knives
  • insulting or humiliating their peers
  • injuring, torturing, or killing animals
  • forced sexual activity

This aspect of conduct disorder is especially dangerous for children because it can lead to early legal problems that can impact their education and follow them into adulthood.

4. Deceitfulness

While most children dabble with finding different ways to get things they want, children with conduct disorder continuously lie or steal from others to get what they want. As with adults with ASPD, they may act unusually sweet or charming in an attempt to get their way.

Again, this isn’t an uncommon behavior in young children, but most of them quickly learn that this hurts others and only results in their own punishment.

Antisocial Personality Disorder

Antisocial personality disorder is a mental health condition in which a person has a long-term pattern of manipulating, exploiting, or violating the rights of others. This behavior is often criminal.


Cause of antisocial personality disorder is unknown. Genetic factors and environmental factors, such as child abuse, are believed to contribute to the development of this condition. People with an antisocial or alcoholic parent are at increased risk. Far more men than women are affected. The condition is common among people who are in prison.

Fire-setting and cruelty to animals during childhood are linked to the development of antisocial personality.

Some doctors believe that psychopathic personality (psychopathy) is the same disorder. Others believe that psychopathic personality is a similar but more severe disorder.


A person with antisocial personality disorder may:

  • Be able to act witty and charming
  • Be good at flattery and manipulating other people’s emotions
  • Break the law repeatedly
  • Disregard the safety of self and others
  • Have problems with substance abuse
  • Lie, steal, and fight often
  • Not show guilt or remorse
  • Often be angry or arrogant

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