Causes, Signs, & Effects of ODD

Are you concerned that you or a loved one may be struggling with oppositional defiant disorder? Learn about the causes, signs, and effects to identify whether professional treatment may be necessary.

Understanding Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Learn about ODD

Laws and rules are standards for acceptable behavior in society, maintain order in society, help resolve disputes, and protect the rights of the people. However, there are individuals who do not follow a specific set of laws and guidelines and display defiance, hostility, or disobedience to socially accepted rules. These individuals may be experiencing symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder, or ODD.

Oppositional defiant disorder is a condition in which an individual displays defiance and disobedience to laws and authority figures with intention to cause disruption or conflict. This may cause disturbances in school, at work, among friends and family, and even online due to strong destructive impulses.

ODD is often first recognized and diagnosed in childhood or adolescence, but can also impact the lives of adults as well. This condition often results in strained relationships, legal struggles, and the development of low self-esteem and diminished self-worth.

In some cases, the defiant behavior only occurs in one location, such as the home. In extreme cases, it could extend outside the home and lead to conflict in a number of settings. Individuals who have ODD may not be aware of their disruptive behavior and the consequences of such disturbances, and often justify these behaviors as a response to circumstances, situations, or people involved.

These behaviors may even continue even when consequences are severe. Fortunately, there are specific treatment methods that can help both individuals and families work through this condition and minimize the disruptive behavior exhibited.


ODD statistics

An estimated 1% to 11% of the population is diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder. Consequently, most studies show that ODD is more commonly first recognized and diagnosed in children and adolescents, although adults also experience this disorder as well. Lastly, this disorder is slightly more common in male children than female children, but affects both adult men and women equally.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for ODD

Both environmental and genetic factors play a part in the development of this disorder.

Genetic: Research shows that several genetic markers are somewhat linked to ODD. Aside from this, individuals who have family members with previous or existing mental health diagnoses may also be more likely to suffer from ODD.

Environmental: Disruptions in childhood are commonly related to the development of ODD. At the same time, a history of abuse, chaos at home, family violence or conflict, and chronic stress can all contribute to the development of oppositional defiant disorder.

Risk Factors:

  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Gender (males experience higher rates of ODD)
  • Exposure to crime or violence at home or in the community
  • Experiences of neglect or abuse, particularly in childhood
  • Chaotic home life
  • Personal history of substance abuse
  • History of trauma, especially repeated trauma exposure

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of ODD

Oppositional defiant disorder symptoms can vary. Signs and symptoms that indicate ODD include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Defiance of rules or laws, whether at home, in school, at work, or within society
  • Refusal to complete tasks in school or at work
  • Sudden outbursts or rages
  • Aggressiveness or hostility towards others
  • Getting into arguments of any type
  • Blaming other people for unacceptable behavior
  • Inflicting physical or emotional harm to others
  • Seeking revenge against perceived slights

Physical symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Muscle tension
  • Stomach ace
  • Increased heart rate or blood pressure
  • Injuries as a result of fight or violence

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor decision-making
  • Inability to sustain attention
  • Lack of control against sudden impulses
  • Lower tolerance for aggravation or frustration
  • Poor judgment

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Agitation
  • Resentment
  • Irritability
  • Anger or fits of rage
  • Negative attitude or outlook
  • Low self-worth
  • Hostility toward others
  • Hopelessness
  • Inability to overcome small annoyances
  • Anxiety


Effects of ODD

If left untreated, oppositional defiant disorder may cause a number of issues in an individual’s life, including serious repercussions as he or she gets older.

Some unfortunate consequences of this disorder include:

  • Arrest or serving jail sentence
  • Decline in work performance that could lead to unemployment
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Low self-esteem
  • Rejection by colleagues or peers
  • Participation in illegal activities
  • Hopelessness
  • Relationship conflict
  • Suicidal tendencies
  • Conflict in personal relationships that may lead to separation or divorce

Co-Occurring Disorders

ODD and co-occurring disorders

Just like in other types of mental health conditions, there are adolescents and adults who struggle with ODD and one (or more) other disorders. Depending on the individual’s risk factors, ODD may also trigger other mental health concerns, such as depression.

Some other common co-occurring disorders include:

  • Language disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Substance use disorders
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