Antisocial Personality Disorder Symptoms and Treatments

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According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 7.6 million American adults suffer from antisocial personality disorder. People who suffer from antisocial personality disorder have little or no regard for right or wrong. They antagonize and often intentionally harm others and are indifferent to the pain and suffering that other people experience. Individuals with this disorder may lie, engage in aggressive or violent behavior, and participate in criminal activity.

According to some critics, the DSM diagnostic criteria are too focused on behaviors commonly displayed by those with antisocial personality disorder, such as fire-setting, cruelty to animals, and difficulties with authority figures. Because of this, it is possible that the prevalence of this disorder has been overstated.

Regardless of this possibility, these behaviors often lead to major difficulties in many life areas, including work and personal relationships and the disorder is often linked to criminal behavior.

Symptoms of Antisocial Personality Disorder

Individuals with antisocial personality disorder:

  • May begin displaying symptoms during childhood. Such behaviors include fire setting, cruelty to animals, and difficulty with authority.
  • Often have legal problems resulting from failures to conform to social norms and a lack of concern for the rights of others.
  • Often act out impulsively and fail to consider the consequences of their actions.
  • Display aggressiveness and irritability that often lead to physical assaults.
  • Have difficulty feeling empathy for others. This inability to consider the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of other people can lead to disregard for others.
  • Display a lack of remorse for damaging behavior.
  • Often have poor or abusive relationships with others and are more likely to abuse or neglect their children.
  • Frequently lies and deceives others for personal gain.

The disorder often begins during childhood although it is often not diagnosed until later in life. As children, those who develop this disorder often experience violent bursts of anger, are cruel to animals and are often described as bullies by their peers.

As adults, the disorder can be destructive to both the person suffering and those who come into contact with the individual. People with antisocial personality disorder are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors, dangerous activities, and criminal acts. Those with the disorder are often described as having no conscience and feel no regret or remorse for their harmful actions.


The exact causes of antisocial personality disorder are not known. Personality is shaped by a variety of forces including nature and nurture. Genetics are thought to play a role in the development of antisocial behavior. However, upbringing can also have an important influence. Many researchers believe that APD is likely strongly linked to inheritance and that environmental influences probably exacerbate its development.

A number of factors have been found to increase the risk of the disorder including smoking during pregnancy and abnormal brain function. People with the disorder also tend to require greater stimulation and may seek out dangerous or even illegal activities to raise their arousal to an optimal level.

Childhood abuse and neglect have also been linked to the onset of APD. Since their parents are abusive and dysfunctional, these children may learn such behavioral patterns and later display them with their own kids. Kids who grow up in disorganized and neglectful homes also lack the opportunities to develop a strong sense of discipline, self-control, and empathy for others.


Those with antisocial personality disorder rarely seek out treatment on their own. Individuals generally receive treatment only after some type of altercation with the legal system.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy can be useful in helping individuals gain insight into their behaviors and to change maladaptive thought patterns. Effective results usually occur only after long-term treatment.

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Article Sources

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  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC.

  • Mayo Clinic Staff. (2013). Antisocial Personality Disorder. Mayo Clinic.