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