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Antisocial personality disorder

Definition

Antisocial personality disorder is a mental 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

Cause of antisocial personality disorder is unknown. Genetic factors and environmental factors, such as 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 among people who are in prison.

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

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

Exams and Tests

Antisocial personality disorder is diagnosed based on a psychological evaluation. The health care provider will consider how long and how severe the person's symptoms are. To be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, a person must have had emotional and behavioral problems (conduct disorder) during childhood.

Treatment

Antisocial personality disorder is one of the most difficult personality disorders to treat. People with this condition usually do not seek treatment on their own. They may only start therapy when required to by a court.

Behavioral treatments, such as those that reward appropriate behavior and have negative consequences for illegal behavior, may work in some people. Talk therapy may also help.

People with an antisocial personality who have other disorders, such as a mood or substance use disorder, are often treated for those problems as well.

Outlook (Prognosis)

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

Possible Complications

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

When to Contact a Medical Professional

See your health care provider or a mental health professional if you or someone you know has symptoms of antisocial personality disorder.

References

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. 2013.

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: Elsevier Mosby; 2008:chap 39.

Review Date:10/31/2014
Reviewed By:Fred K. Berger, MD, Addiction and Forensic Psychiatrist, Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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