Many factors may contribute to a child developing conduct disorder, including brain damage, child abuse, school failure, and traumatic life experiences.
- Certain children have a genetic vulnerability to this disorder, the nature of which is unclear.
- When vulnerability is combined with high-risk environmental factors, such as poverty, parental neglect, marital discord, parental illness, parental alcoholism, and having a parent with antisocial personality disorder, chances of CD increase.
- Adolescents with CD have been found to have impairment in the frontal lobe of the brain, an area that affects the ability to plan, to avoid harm, and to learn from negative consequences.
A troubled, abusive, or unsupportive home or social environment can result in a child with a naturally but not distressingly difficult temperament spiraling towards conduct disorder, in an increasingly negative cycle of interactions with parents, authority figures, and peers.
Professional understanding of the underlying factors is complicated by the fact that many children with CD go undiagnosed because their symptoms are considered simply bad behavior rather than a psychiatric disorder. Research based on treatment data suggests 6% of American children may have CD, though the actual prevalence is unknown.