Signs, Symptoms, & Causes of Oppositional Defiant Disorder

The first step to getting help is recognizing the problem. If you’re concerned your child or teenager may be suffering from oppositional defiant disorder, learn more about the signs and symptoms to watch for.

Understanding Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Learn about oppositional defiant disorder

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a childhood disorder typically defined by patterns of hostility, disobedience, and defiance directed at adults or other authority figures. Children with Oppositional defiant disorder may also display angry and irritable moods and act out in argumentative and vindictive behaviors and in most cases symptoms can significantly be reduced with proper treatment. While all children will participate in oppositional and defiant behaviors as they begin to test boundaries and try to assert their independence, children with oppositional defiant disorder take these types of behaviors to an extreme. These children will do things with the sole purpose of causing conflict or annoying those around them. They do not care about the consequences that could potentially result from any of their actions.


Oppositional defiant disorder statistics

Oppositional defiant disorder is believed to be one of the most common behavioral disorders diagnosed in children. While its true prevalence is still under debate, it is estimated that 10.2% of children will develop ODD. However, approximately two thirds of children who are given a diagnosis of oppositional defiant disorder will overcome their symptom, with studies showing that 70% of those previously diagnosed with ODD are no longer displaying symptoms by the time they reach the age of 18.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for oppositional defiant disorder in children and teens

As is true of all behavioral disorders, the specific causes that might be attributed to the onset of ODD cannot be narrowed down to any one specific factor. Instead, it is believed that a combination of factors work together towards causing a person to develop the symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder. The following are some examples of the different causes and factors that may be attributed to the development of ODD:

Genetic: It is common for children who are diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder to have family members who also suffer from some form of mental illness. This fact suggests that there is most likely a genetic component that leads a person to have a higher susceptibility towards developing ODD.

Physical: The presence of abnormal amounts of certain brain chemicals have been linked to the existence of oppositional defiant disorder. These brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) work towards helping to keep the other chemicals in the brain balanced properly. When an imbalance exists, and messages within the brain are no longer communicating properly, symptoms of ODD may occur.

Environmental: The environment in which a person lives is believed by some to have a significant effect on whether or not he or she will experience the onset of ODD. If a child is surrounded by a somewhat chaotic home life where things like violence and arguments are prevalent, it would not be unreasonable to assume that the child could begin acting out at as a result. Similarly, if children are exposed to violence, or have friends who behave in destructive, reckless manners, they too are more likely to begin exhibiting symptoms that are typical of the onset of oppositional defiant disorder.

Risk Factors:

  • Dysfunctional home life
  • Repeated exposure to violence
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Lack of parental involvement / inconsistent parenting (e.g. inconsistent discipline)
  • Experiencing abuse and/or neglect

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder in children and teens

The signs and symptoms of ODD will vary from child to child. There also tends to be a significant difference in how symptoms present in girls as opposed to how they present in boys. The following are various examples of different signs and symptoms that maybe be indicative that a child has oppositional defiant disorder:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Excessive arguing
  • Refusing to follow rules
  • Frequently throwing temper tantrums
  • Acting hostile towards others
  • Blaming others for their own negative behaviors
  • Seeking revenge, even when unwarranted
  • Blatant and repeated disobedience
  • Willingly destroying friendships

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Easily and frequently becoming frustrated
  • Experiencing difficulty concentrating
  • Lacking the ability to, or refusing to, think before speaking

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Anxiety
  • Rage
  • Frustration
  • Persistent negativity


Effects of oppositional defiant disorder in children and teens

Children who do not receive treatment for their symptoms of ODD may end up suffering from long-term effects that follow them into adulthood. Some examples of these effects may include:

  • Social isolation
  • Difficulty or an inability to develop and maintain meaningful relationships
  • Academic failure

In some cases, children who do not receive treatment will grow up to have conduct disorder in their teenage or young adult years. If it still continues to be untreated, adolescents with conduct disorder may go on to develop antisocial personality disorder.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Oppositional defiant disorder and co-occurring disorders

Oppositional defiant disorder can occur alongside many different mental illnesses, some which have symptoms that overlap one another. Examples of the most common disorders that co-exist with ODD include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorder
  • Intermittent explosive disorder
  • Substance abuse disorders