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Menace or Illness: Overview of Antisocial Personality Disorder

Updated on October 10, 2016
Dean Traylor profile image

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher. He is a former journalist who has worked on various community and college publications.


Prison officials are aware of individuals with antisocial behavior disorders (ASPD or APD). It is estimated that 50% to 80% of those incarcerated have this condition. Yet, in the general population of the United States, only three percent of males and one percent of females have it. As rare as this condition appears to be, it doesn't go unnoticed. And for those that have it, ASPD can hinder one’s life in a very dramatic and horrendous way.

Antisocial personality disorder is one of many forms of personality disorders. It is characterized as a chronic mental illness in which the individual’s way of thinking, perceiving situations, and relating to others are dysfunctional (Mayo Clinic staff, 2010). The American Psychiatric Association further defines the disorder in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) as “…a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood.”


The Types of ASPD

A person with this condition may have one of five types of ASPD. They are:

1. Covetous antisocial: the individuals feel that life has not given them their due. They believe society “owes” them something.

2. Reputation-defending antisocial: the individuals have narcissistic tendencies and feels that they are being personally attacked by others.

3. Risk-taking antisocial: referring to Histrionics, it is a pattern of excessive emotions, attention-seeking, desire for approvals, and/or inappropriate seductiveness beginning in early adulthood.

4. Nomadic antisocial: schizoid or avoidance characteristics.

5. Malevolent antisocial: including sadistic or paranoid characteristics.

Other Names for ASPD

Often, a person with ASPD is often considered a "sociopath or psychopath" by the public. Some sources refer to a psychopath as being a severe form ASPD, despite there is no official reference to it in DSM-IV. Also, some researchers state that the two conditions are not synonymous with ASPD.

Whatever the case may be, a person with this condition is susceptible to substance abuse, violent conflicts, jail-time, drastic mood problems (depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder), and other personality disorders such as narcissism, self-mutilation, and forms of self-harm. Also, in the most extreme cases, they are prone to dying from homicide, suicide, or accidents.

Research on possible risk factors for developing antisocial personality disorders indicate that a critical part of the brain responsible for learning from one’s mistake and for responding to other people’s facial expression is affected.

What Causes It?

There isn't one definitive cause for the condition. Also, numerous research into the condition and its possible biological/genetic link has been inconclusive. Environmental factors vary as well. Many researchers believe that the causes can be a combination of genetics and environment.

Research on possible risk factors for developing antisocial personality disorders indicate that a critical part of the brain responsible for learning from one’s mistake and for responding to other people’s facial expression is affected. The amygdala tends to be smaller in these individual. They respond less robustly to the happy, sad, or fearful facial expression of others (Dryden-Edward, 2010). Researchers believe that this may have something to do with the lack of empathy that antisocial individuals tend to have.

Environmental factors can be the following: physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or neglect as a child. Also, an individual’s substance abuse, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or associating with peers who engage in antisocial behavior have been recognized as possible causes.


The Symptoms

The causes and factors are only suspects in determining how somebody contracted ASPD. What researchers know is that there are symptoms that have been linked to the condition. They are:

Persistent lying or deceit;

•Using charm or wit to manipulate others;

•Recurring difficulties with the law;

•Repeatedly violating the rights of others;

•Child abuse or neglect;

•Aggressive or violent behavior;

•Impulsive behavior Lack of remorse about harming others;


•Poor or abusive relationships; and

•Irresponsible work behavior.

Many of these symptoms will peak in an individual’s 20-something years. Afterward, the symptoms will be reduced, but won't completely vanish.

Another thing to consider is that ASPD can exist in accordance with other conditions. Most of them have other personality disorders such as anxiety, depression, substance-related disorders, pathological gambling, somatization, borderline personality disorder, narcissism, and histrionic personality disorder.


In terms of effectiveness, the best form of treatment is therapy. Either, cognitive behavioral, psychodynamic psychotherapy, stress and anger management skill-building or psycho-education can help. In the most extreme case in which the individual is incapable of taking care of him/herself, hospitalization is recommended.

Medication can help treat the conditions that co-exist with ASPD; however, they need to be taken with some precautions; it will not treat ASPD effectively as it does the other conditions. The types of medications used are antidepressants, mood-stabilizing, anti-anxiety or anti-psychotic drugs.

ASPD is not an easy disorder to diagnose. Also, it can play havoc on the individual inflicted with it. It can cause conflicts with others, social isolation and depression as well as incarceration . Knowing what it is the start. There are no cures for it, but there are plenty of treatments to make this condition manageable.

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© 2014 Dean Traylor


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