Antisocial Personality Disorder

An adults-only diagnosis, antisocial personality disorder describes individuals who tend to disregard and violate the rights of others around them.


Antisocial personality disorder is best understood within the context of the broader category of personality disorders.

A personality disorder is an enduring pattern of personal experience and behavior that deviates noticeably from the expectations of the individual's culture, is pervasive and inflexible, has an onset in adolescence or early adulthood, is stable over time, and leads to personal distress or impairment.

Antisocial personality disorder is characterized by a pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others. The diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder is not given to individuals under the age of 18 and is only given if there is a history of some symptoms of conduct disorder before age 15.

The severity of symptoms of antisocial personality disorder can vary in severity. The more egregious, harmful, or dangerous behavior patterns are referred to as sociopathic or psychopathic. There has been much debate as to the distinction between these descriptions. Sociopathy is chiefly characterized as a something severely wrong with one's conscience; psychopathy is characterized as a complete lack of conscience regarding others. Some professionals describe people with this constellation of symptoms as "stone cold" to the rights of others. Complications of this disorder include imprisonment, drug abuse, and alcoholism.

People with this illness may seem charming, but they are likely to be irritable and aggressive as well as irresponsible. They may have numerous somatic complaints and perhaps attempt suicide. Due to their manipulative tendencies, it is difficult to separate what they say about themselves that is true from what is not.


  • Disregard for society's laws
  • Violation of the physical or emotional rights of others
  • Lack of stability in job and home life
  • Lack of remorse
  • Superficial wit and charm
  • Recklessness, impulsivity
  • A childhood diagnosis (or symptoms consistent with) conduct disorder

Diagnosis is given to those over 18 years of age. Antisocial personality is confirmed by a psychological evaluation. Other disorders should be ruled out first, as this is a serious diagnosis.

People with antisocial personality disorder often use alcohol and other drugs, which can exacerbate symptoms of the disorder. The coexistence of substance abuse and antisocial personality disorder complicates treatment for both.


While the exact causes of this disorder are unknown, environmental and genetic factors have been implicated. Genetic factors are suspected since the incidence of antisocial behavior is higher in people with an antisocial biological parent. Environmental factors are believed to contribute to the development of antisocial personality disorder since a person whose role model had antisocial tendencies is more likely to develop the disorder.

About 3 percent of men and about 1 percent of women have antisocial personality disorder, with much higher percentages among the prison population.


Antisocial personality disorder is one of the most difficult personality disorders to treat. Individuals rarely seek treatment on their own and may only initiate therapy when mandated by a court. There is no known effective treatment for this disorder.


  • American Psychiatric Association
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed.).
  • National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus, 2006. Antisocial Personality Disorder.
  • Stout, M. (2005). The Sociopath Next Door
  • Westermeyer, J. and Thuras, P. (2005). Association of antisocial personality disorder and substance disorder morbidity in a clinical sample. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Last reviewed 02/17/2015