What Is the Most Common Behavior Disorder?

Reviewed on 8/23/2022
Worried man speaking to a therapist
Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder (CD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are the most common behavior disorders.

Behavioral disorders are those in which children display disruptive behaviors that last at least 6 months and cause problems at school, home, and in social situations. 

Behaviors that may be displayed in behavioral disorders may include:

  • Inattention
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity
  • Defiance
  • Drug use
  • Criminal activity

The most common behavior disorders include:

  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) 
    • Around about 10% of children under the age of 12 years may have oppositional defiant disorder 
    • ODD affects boys twice as often as girls
  • Conduct disorder (CD)
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
    • About 2-5% of children may have have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
    • ADHD affects boys three times as often as girls

These behavioral disorders have some symptoms in common, and a child may have more than one disorder at the same time, making diagnosis difficult. 

What Are Symptoms of Behavior Disorders?

Symptoms of behavior disorders depend on the specific disorder. 

Symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder may include: 

  • Anger, annoyance, irritation
  • Becoming easily frustrated
  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Frequent arguments with adults
  • Refusal to follow rules
  • Seems to deliberately try to annoy or aggravate others
  • Low self-esteem
  • Blames others 

Symptoms of conduct disorder (CD) may include: 

  • Refusal to follow rules set by parents and authority figures
  • Repeated truancy
  • Use of drugs, including cigarettes and alcohol, at an early age
  • Lack of empathy 
  • Aggression toward animals and people 
  • Sadistic behaviors including bullying and physical or sexual abuse
  • Starts physical fights and may use weapons in physical fights 
  • Frequent lying
  • Criminal behavior such as stealing, lighting fires, breaking into homes, and vandalism
  • Running away from home
  • Suicidal tendencies (rare)
    • If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone. All calls are confidential. You may also visit http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may include: 

  • Inattention
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Forgetfulness
    • Going from one task to another without completing anything
  • Impulsivity
    • Talking over others
    • Being short-tempered 
    • Being accident-prone
  • Overactivity
    • Fidgeting
    • Restlessness 

What Causes Behavior Disorders?

The causes of behavior disorders are unknown. Risk factors for developing a behavior disorder include:

  • Male gender 
  • Difficult pregnancies, premature birth, and low birth weight 
  • Difficult temperament 
  • Dysfunctional family life
  • Learning difficulties
  • Intellectual disabilities 
  • Brain development in areas of the brain that control attention seems to be less active in children with ADHD

How Are Behavior Disorders Diagnosed?

Behavior disorders can be difficult to diagnose, and a child may have more than one disorder at the same time. 

Diagnosis of a behavior disorder may made if a child’s behavior meets the criteria for disruptive behavior disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders from the American Psychiatric Association.

What Is the Treatment for Behavior Disorders?

Earlier intervention for behavior disorders usually leads to a better prognosis. 

Treatment for behavior disorders depends on the disorder and the factors contributing to it, and may include:

  • Parental education to teach parents to communicate with and manage their children
  • Family therapy to help improve communication and problem-solving skills
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy to help the child to control thoughts and behavior
  • Social training to teach a child social skills
  • Anger management to teach a child to recognize signs of frustration and give them coping skills to defuse anger and aggressive behavior
  • Support for associated problems such as learning difficulty 
  • Encouragement to help build self-esteem
  • Medication to help control impulsive behaviors

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Reviewed on 8/23/2022

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