Antisocial Personality Disorder

Antisocial personality disorder is one of the most puzzling and difficult to treat mental illnesses. Individuals with this disorder act in ways far out of line with the rules and norms of their culture and fail to feel empathy for others or remorse for their wrongdoings. Although mental health professionals have so far had limited success in treating it, continued efforts are being made to better define and treat this distressing personality disorder.

Definition of Antisocial Personality Disorder

Antisocial personality disorder is a mental illness marked by long-term patterns of disregarding and violating the rights of others.

Signs & Symptoms of Antisocial Personality Disorder

People with antisocial personality disorder tend to be egocentric, concerned primarily with their own gain or pleasure.[2] Although they can be charming, they lack empathy and manipulate or exploit others rather than engage in mutually fulfilling relationships.[1,2] They are prone to irritability and aggression and tend to be irresponsible and impulsive, willing to pursue risky or illegal activities to relieve boredom.[1,2]

Although antisocial personality disorder is not diagnosed in individuals under 18 years of age, they may have experienced symptoms of conduct disorder before this age.[2] As children, they may have even set fires or abused animals.[1]

Causes of Antisocial Personality Disorder

The cause of antisocial personality disorder is unknown. Some theories suggest abnormal nervous system development or abnormal brain development may be at the root of the disorder.[3] Other theories look to social and environmental causes such as poor attachment with caregivers.[3] Studies have also noted higher rates of child abuse and alcoholic parents in individuals with the disorder.[1,3]

Effects of Antisocial Personality Disorder

Individuals with antisocial personality disorder may harm themselves. They may repeatedly lie, show disregard for the safety of others, and fail to meet financial and other obligations.[2] Because they tend to disregard the law, they may find themselves in legal trouble. Antisocials may also engage in physical altercations as a result of irritability and aggression.

Treatment for Antisocial Personality Disorder

Antisocial personality disorder is difficult to treat and few treatments have been tested for the disorder.[4] So far, the most successful treatments have been those targeting specific symptoms of the disorder (such as anger) and those putting the patient face to face with the legal consequences of their behavior.[1,4]


  1. Antisocial Personality Disorder. Medline Plus. Retrieved from:
  2. T 04 Antisocial Personality Disorder (Dyssocial Personality Disorder). American Psychiatric Association DSM-5 Development. Retrieved from:
  3. What Causes Antisocial Personality Disorder?. PsychCentral. Retrieved from:
  4. What should be done with antisocial personality disorder in the new edition of the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-V)? BMC Medicine. Retrieved from:

By C. J. Newton, MA, Editor

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