The most effective treatments for conduct disorder include family intervention to help parents gain skills to deal with their children's antisocial or disruptive behavior. Therapy teaches parents appropriate techniques to handle their children and aids the youngster in learning self-control and problem-solving skills. Prevention and treatment help a child with conduct disorder learn to interact with people and follow social norms. Medication is sometimes used in treating conduct disorder, especially if the child also suffers from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
Few drugs have proven helpful as treatments for conduct disorder, however. Stimulant medication, such as Ritalin, works for some children with conduct disorder but has no effect on others. Lithium reduced aggression in children in one study, but those results could not be replicated in subsequent research. Clonidine is more commonly used, but has been associated with increases in blood pressure and heart rate. Many pediatricians favor psychotherapy in tandem with parenting classes as treatments for conduct disorder.
Positive reinforcement for desirable behavior is one technique used to help children learn acceptable conduct. If aggression is severe, anger management classes may also help. In some families, a parent will give in to a child's demands because he or she doesn't know how to deal with the child's defiance. This may reinforce poor behavior because it is essentially rewarding the youngster for his or her actions.
Early intervention may benefit parents seeking treatments for conduct disorder. Some children show signs of defiant behavior as young as two years old. The disorder generally erupts from a lack of appropriate rules in the home, causing the child to become angry and rebel. An unstable household plagued by divorce, intensive punishment, or unclear boundaries might provoke conduct disorder.
Signs of conduct disorder can show themselves in frequent instances of defiance or antisocial behavior that might include lying, stealing, and destruction of property. Some children with conduct disorder set fires, skip school at an early age, and run away from home. They may be cruel to animals and people, become bullies, and get into frequent fights. The disorder is more commonly seen in boys, and hyperactivity is often present with conduct disorder. Sometimes other underlying mental conditions may also be present.
About half the children with conduct disorder grow up to be aggressive and antisocial adults if treatment is not sought or successful. They may get involved in criminal activity or join gangs and begin using weapons. Many adults in the prison system may have suffered conduct disorder as children but did not receive treatment to learn how to change their behavior.