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Dissocial disorder: symptoms, causes and treatments

Dissocial disorder: symptoms, causes and treatments

March 25, 2023

We are gregarious beings, and the fact of living in society makes it necessary to establish a series of basic rules to ensure a healthy coexistence respectful of the basic rights of each fellow citizen, both legally and ethically. Most of us obey most of these norms, or at least the second ones, often almost unconsciously by having them internalized.

However, there are people who manifest a behavioral pattern characterized by the consistent rejection of them and the indifference towards the basic rights of others.

Probably, after this description we can think that we are going to talk about adults with antisocial personality disorder. But the truth is that these patterns are also observed in childhood, in those children with dissocial disorder . It is this disorder that we are going to talk about throughout this article.

  • Maybe you're interested: "The 6 stages of childhood (physical and psychic development)"

Defining the disorder

The dissocial disorder, now called conduct disorder in the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), it is a characteristic alteration of underage subjects (being able to start at different stages of child and adolescent development) that throughout their childhood present a pattern of continuous behavior characterized by the presence of a systematic violation of social norms and the rights of others for at least twelve months.

Specifically, this pattern of behavior is identified with the presence of aggressive behavior against people (which may include the use of weapons) or animals (being frequently the torture and / or execution of small animals and pets), the use of fraud and theft of small objects or the breaking and entering, serious breach of the rules general social problems of cohabitation and / or vandalism.

Children with this disorder suffer significant deterioration in various areas such as social life and school . They tend to present low levels of empathy, ignoring the rights and feelings of others. It is also common to give a sense of hardness of character, as well as having preconceived ideas about society and rejection. They are also characterized, in general, by acting without thinking about the consequences and impulsively, with risky behaviors and low capacity for delaying gratification and tolerance of frustration.

Generally, their actions do not usually go unnoticed by the environment, something that can also lead to problems of socialization and frequent problems at the school level and with justice. In spite of this, some behaviors usually go unnoticed initially, being hidden or little visible (like the torture of animals). They may present disregard for their performance, superficial affection, lack of empathy and a low or no level of remorse to the consequences of their actions, although these characteristics do not occur in all cases.

Relationship with antisocial personality disorder

Dyssocial disorder has been considered throughout history, and in fact has sometimes been confused, with antisocial personality disorder. It should be noted that both are not synonymous, although in some cases there is syndromic continuity and the diagnostic criteria of both disorders have few divergences beyond the age of onset (the antisocial disorder requires that the subject already has the personality formed, considering the point of inflection as of 18 years of age although antisocial behavior patterns must appear before the age of fifteen).

In fact, although most of the disorder disappears upon reaching adulthood and develop more elaborate behaviors and capacities (especially in those cases in which the manifestation of the disorder has a rather adolescent start), a considerable percentage of these children will eventually develop an antisocial personality disorder. In this case we are largely with subjects who have had a disocial disorder of earlier onset, setting and limiting more their behavioral repertoire and their way of seeing life.

  • Related article: "Aggression in childhood: the causes of aggression in children"

Possible causes associated with this psychological phenomenon

Since the conception of this disorder, the scientific community has tried to find an explanation for this type of behavioral disorder. It is considered that there is no single cause of this disorder, but that there are multiple factors that influence its genesis .

From a biological perspective, the possible existence of behavioral inhibition problems derived from a lack of development or infraactivation of the frontal together with an excess activation of the limbic system and the cerebral reward system has been raised. It also assesses the existence of a lack of moral development, the capacity for empathy and immaturity, which may be partly due to elements intrinsic to its biology and partly because of poor socialization .

At a more psychological and social level, it has been observed that many of these children leave from homes where there are problems of behavior and marginality. The presence of ongoing intrafamilial conflicts can be associated by the minors as a natural way of proceeding, acting as a model, while at the same time can condition the child learn not to trust others . Social rejection has also been linked to the emergence of this disorder, observing that they usually have problems relating and solving problems.

The type of parenting pattern is also linked: authoritarian parents and critics with a punitive way of acting or overly permissive parents whose indications are unclear and do not allow them to learn discipline or the need to comply are more likely to teach their children to act covertly or to always have their will done. This does not necessarily imply a dissocial disorder, but it can facilitate it.

An attempt has also been made to explain this problem as an aspect based on conditioning: throughout its life the minor has observed that the performance of aggressive acts serves to meet their objectives , being the consequences of said appetitive acts initially and reinforcing the repetition of the same way of proceeding.


Dyssocial disorder is a problem whose treatment even today is not fully established. It is common to use various multimodal programs, which include both the child and the parents and services in contact with the child, and they require the collaboration of professionals from different disciplines and with an eclectic approach.

At the psychological level, a program that includes training in social and communication skills, as well as problem solving, is usually recommended. The reinforcement of prosocial behaviors, behavioral contracts, modeling and emotional expression are also useful. Generally, cognitive-behavioral programs are used , trying to teach positive ways of relating and generating alternative behaviors to those of the disorder.

Training for parents and psychoeducation are also elements to be taken into account and can help to reassure and teach action and learning guidelines for the child.

In very extreme cases and especially in those subjects whose behavioral alterations are due to the experimentation of emotional distress, in addition to a treatment dedicated to modify the elements that generate discomfort or the perception of these the use of some drugs may be recommended as the SSRIs.

Bibliographic references:

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth edition. DSM-V. Masson, Barcelona.
  • Thief, A. (2012). Child Clinical Psychology. CEDE Manual of Preparation PIR, 0 .. CEDE: Madrid.
  • Pérez, M .; Fernández, J.R .; Fernández, I. (2006). Guide to effective psychological treatments III. Childhood and adolescence Pyramid: Madrid.

Antisocial Personality Disorder: Symptoms and Treatment (March 2023).

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