Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) is a mental illness, generally diagnosable in adolescence or early adulthood, if not before. It has been classified as such by the American Psychiatric Association since 1968 and continues to be studied today.
Individuals with antisocial personality disorders typically do not care about anything but themselves and their own needs and desires, which can include power, money, sex, or anything else they might conceive of. They are manipulative and cannot be trusted in any way.
Symptoms often develop in childhood. There is a strong correlation between early aggressiveness (especially in boys) and later development of ASPD; it’s estimated that 60% to 80% of all cases of adult ASPD have a history of childhood delinquency. However, not all children diagnosed with conduct disorder develop antisocial personality disorder in adulthood.
It is a common misconception that ASPD only causes violence or aggression. In fact, it causes a lack of empathy and remorse as well as disinhibition, which can lead to risky sexual behavior or excessive spending.
While many people with an antisocial personality disorder do exhibit criminal behavior, only a minority becomes involved in serious and violent crimes such as murder and physical assault. Many individuals with antisocial personality disorders usually commit non-violent crimes such as fraud and theft, where success depends on their ability to manipulate others. An antisocial personality disorder is the only mental illness recognized by the criminal justice system as requiring its own legal defense.
There are several treatment options for antisocial personality disorder, which most often involve both medications and psychotherapy (counseling). The most widely used treatments for ASPD include behavioral treatments such as operant conditioning and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Sedatives are sometimes used to reduce the symptoms of antisocial personality disorder during acute psychiatric crises, but they do not treat or cure ASPD.
Individuals with an antisocial personality disorder often suffer from other mental illnesses as well, particularly substance abuse disorders. They are also more likely than others to develop mood and anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder.
The cause of antisocial personality disorder is not known. However, it may be linked to low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in parts of the brain that are important for self-control and regulation of aggression. This finding suggests that individuals with antisocial personality disorder have problems modulating their behavior and emotions.
Some researchers think that the cause of antisocial personality disorder may be biological, either due to genetic or hormonal factors. Others attribute the disorder to psychological factors such as dysfunctional family relationships during childhood, particularly neglect or abuse by parents. However, there is no unambiguous evidence linking parenting practices with this disorder in particular.
People with antisocial personality disorder often do not recognize that they have a mental illness and, thus, frequently refuse to receive treatment or drop out of treatment early.