What Are The Similarities And Differences Between Conduct Disorder And Delinquency?

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Definitions of Conduct Disorder and Delinquency

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association defines Conduct Disorder as a pattern of behaviour in which a child persistently engages in acts that violate the basic rights of others or violate the norms of society, as measured by certain criteria. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines delinquency as “conduct that is out of accord with accepted behaviour or the law, especially juvenile delinquency”. Juvenile delinquency describes behaviour in minors that would be considered criminal in adults. But apart from the definition, what are the similarities and differences between conduct disorder and delinquency?

Co-Occurrence of Conduct Disorder and Delinquency

Conduct Disorder is extremely common in juvenile delinquents, with Milin et al. noting that 91 percent of the juvenile delinquents in a sample had Conduct Disorder, and Young et al. finding that 100 percent of their sample of delinquents also had Conduct Disorder. There is a significant risk of substance abuse in adolescents with Conduct Disorder, with one study showing a 52 percent substance abuse rate for Conduct Disordered youths. However, the substance abuse rate among delinquents has been shown to be significantly higher, at up to 78 percent.

Biological Similarities and Differences between Conduct Disorder and Delinquency

Children diagnosed with Conduct Disorder usually have more complex behavioural problems than children who are juvenile delinquents. There is evidence that children with Conduct Disorder have more verbal skill deficits than juvenile delinquents, who in turn have verbal skill deficiencies in comparison to typical children. There is evidence that children with conduct disorder have frontal lobe dysfunction, which is much less prevalent in delinquent populations. Conduct disorder is also associated with Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, two disorders that are thought to be partially or wholly biologically caused. Conduct Disorder has also been related to other biological phenomena, such as abnormally low iron levels in the blood. Delinquency appears not to have such a definite biological component. Nevertheless, there is evidence that a child’s temperament, which rarely changes from infancy, has been shown to be a reasonable predictor of later delinquency. In general, delinquency is thought to arise mostly as a consequence of environmental factors. The evidence for the environmental component of delinquency can be a source of comfort to anxious parents eager to find out what are the similarities and differences between conduct disorder and delinquency.

Prognosis and Treatment of Conduct Disorder and Delinquency

A 1998 study by Pajer showed that children diagnosed with Conduct Disorder were extremely likely to continue having problems well into adulthood, whereas the juvenile delinquents who stopped criminal activity in early adulthood were much les likely to have been previously diagnosed with Conduct Disorder. Conduct Disorder and delinquency also appear to respond to the same treatments. A Cochrane Review in 2010 found that family and parenting interventions had equally beneficial effects on both children with Conduct Disorder and juvenile delinquents.


American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text revision). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

Cochrane review: Family and parenting interventions in children and adolescents with conduct disorder and delinquency aged 10-17. Retrieved Oct 11 from website: https://www2.cochrane.org/reviews/en/ab003015.html

Copur, M. Turkcan, A. and Erdogmus, M. (2005). Substance abuse, conduct disorder and crime. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 59 151 - 154.

Kring, A. M., Davison, G. C., Neale, J. M. and Johnson, S. L. (2007). Abnormal Psychology (10__th ed.), Hoboken, NJ : John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Merriam-Webster’s Medical Dictionary. Retrieved Oct 10, 2010, from Dictionary.com website: https://dictionary.reference.com/browse/