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 linked to 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 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
Antisocial personality disorder is diagnosed based on a psychological evaluation that assesses 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.
Behavioral treatments, such as those that reward appropriate behavior and have negative consequences for illegal behavior, may hold the most promise. Certain forms of talk therapy are also being explored.
Persons with antisocial personality who have other disorders, such as a mood or substance disorder, are often treated for those problems as well.
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
See your health care provider or a mental health professional you or someone you know has symptoms of antisocial personality 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: Elsevier Mosby; 2008:chap 39.
David B. Merrill, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.