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Antisocial personality disorder

Definition

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.

Alternative Names

Sociopathic personality; Sociopathy; Personality disorder - antisocial

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

The causes of antisocial personality disorder are unknown. Genetic factors and 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 in people who are in prison.

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

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

Symptoms

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

Signs and tests

Like other personality disorders, antisocial personality disorder is diagnosed based on a psychological evaluation and the history and severity of symptoms. To be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, a person must have had conduct disorder during childhood.

Treatment

Antisocial personality disorder is one of the most difficult personality disorders to treat. People with this condition rarely seek treatment on their own. They may only start therapy when required to by a court.

The effectiveness of treatment for antisocial personality disorder is not known. Treatments that show the person the negative consequences of illegal behavior seem to hold the most promise.

Expectations (prognosis)

Symptoms tend to peak during the late teenage years and early 20s. They sometimes improve on their own by a person's 40s.

Complications

Complications can include imprisonment, drug abuse, violence, and suicide.

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with a mental health professional if:

  • You have symptoms of antisocial personality disorder
  • Your child shows behaviors of this disorder

References

Blais MA, Smallwood P, Groves JE, Rivas-Vazquez RA. Personality and personality disorders. In: Stern TA, Rosenbaum JF, Fava M, Biederman J, Rauch SL, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2008:chap 39.


Review Date: 11/14/2010
Reviewed By: Linda Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine; and David B. Merrill, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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