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. A common term affiliated with an antisocial personality disorder is sociopath or psychopath. These terms are identical but not the same. Due to these characteristics, people with this disorder typically struggle to fulfill responsibilities related to family, work, or school. Antisocial personality disorder is much more common in males than in females. Individuals with antisocial personality disorder often violate the law, becoming criminals. The highest prevalence of antisocial personality disorder (greater than 70%) is found among males who abuse alcohol or drugs or who are in prisons or other forensic settings. Antisocial personality disorder is uncommon, affecting just 0.6% of the population.

Antisocial Personality Disorder Defined

Antisocial personality disorder is a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood. This pattern has also been referred to as psychopathy, sociopathy, and dissocial personality disorder.

Individuals with antisocial personality disorder frequently lack empathy and tend to be callous, cynical, and contemptuous of the feelings, rights, and sifting of others. Due to their manipulative tendencies, it is difficult to tell whether they are lying or telling the truth. The symptoms of antisocial personality disorder can vary in severity.

An individual has to be at least 18 years old to be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. As an individual ages, the disorder becomes less evident. It is not clear whether this is due to age or because of consequences linked to traits related to antisocial personality disorder.

Antisocial Personality Disorder Causes

The cause of antisocial personality disorder is not fully understood but there is an agreement that it is caused by a combination of factors. While there is no specific gene linked to antisocial personality disorder, genetics may play a role in the development of this disorder. While some of this has to do with genetics, some of this is also likely due to the child’s personality and temperament, as well environmental factors and brain defects. Research shows that brain defects and injuries during developmental years may also be linked to antisocial personality disorder.

Antisocial Personality Disorder Symptoms

To be diagnosed with Antisocial personality disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the following criteria must be met:

A. A pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others, occurring since age 15 years, as indicated by three (or more) of the following:

  1. Failure to conform to social norms concerning lawful behaviors, as indicated but repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest.
  2. Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure.
  3. Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead.
  4. Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults.
  5. Reckless disregard for the safety of self or others.
  6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations.
  7. Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.

B. The individual is at least 18 years old.
C. There is evidence of conduct disorder with onset before age 15 years.
D. The occurrence of antisocial behavior is not exclusively during the course of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Adults with antisocial personality disorder typically show symptoms of conduct disorder before the age of 15. Signs and symptoms of conduct disorder include serious, persistent behavior problems, such as:

  • Aggression toward people and animals
  • Deceitfulness
  • Theft
  • Destruction of property
  • Serious violation of rules

How to Approach a Loved One

There is no perfect way to approach a loved one that you assume or know has an antisocial personality disorder. People with Antisocial personality disorder may not believe anything is wrong with them, so they may resist treatment or not listen to the concerns of their family and friends. While preventing a loved one from developing Antisocial personality disorder is not possible, providing support and being aware of what their learning in treatment can be helpful.

Types of Antisocial Personality Disorder Treatment

Antisocial personality disorder can be a challenge to treat not only because individuals with antisocial personality disorder depend on the severity of their symptoms as well as resistance to treating it. Therapy can be short-term as well as long-term. Often, including family members or significant others in therapy can be helpful. When considering treatment it is important to consider co-occurring conditions that may exist, like anxiety or depression. Treatment can improve an individual’s life, making it more enjoyable and rewarding.


Psychotherapy is the most common method of treatment for antisocial personality disorder. Through psychotherapy, people with antisocial personality disorder may improve anger and violence management as well as treatment for substance abuse.


To date, there are no drugs approved by the FDA that have been specifically created to treat antisocial personality disorder. Medications can be useful when treating other symptoms that may occur simultaneously with antisocial personality disorder, such as anxiety or depression.


American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders.

(5th ed.) Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.

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