Oppositional defiant disorder is a mental illness where children or teenagers are extremely defiant and disobedient to their caregivers or to authority figures in general. This is a chronic condition that cannot be cured, though treatment can help. Parents getting into quarrels with their children is a very common occurrence and is actually quite normal. However, when these quarrels become so disruptive and frequent that they greatly hinder their relationships and cause a lot of mental anguish for both parties, then they may be suffering from oppositional defiant disorder.

Be that as it may, it is very important to note that merely having an argumentative child does not mean that they then suffer from oppositional defiant disorder as this condition is a life long mental illness, not the result of a few heated arguments.

Young people who are suffering from this disorder are not necessarily restricted to being defiant to their caregivers only. Someone suffering from oppositional defiant disorder may also be very disobedient and angry toward authoritative figures in general. For instance, someone with this condition may have extreme difficulty with taking orders from their teacher. They may be very resentful toward them and may purposefully misbehave in an attempt to maintain control over them.

This disorder is listed in the DSM-5 under disruptive, impulse-control and conduct disorders. In the DSM-5, oppositional defiant disorder is defined as “a pattern of angry/irritable mood, argumentative/defiant behavior, or vindictiveness” in children and adolescents.



Symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Someone suffering from full blown oppositional defiant disorder can expect to experience a lot of anger and resentment toward their caregivers and/or other authority figures such as teachers, coaches, etc. Such intense emotional distress is likely to cause a lot of issues in their day to day life. They will likely have a very unhealthy home life that is stricken with discontentment, heated arguments, and constant anxiety.

Below, you will see some of the most common symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder:

  • Easily loses temper
  • Is often angry and resentful
  • Blames others for their own mistakes
  • Tries to intentionally upset people
  • Actively refuse to follow rules or requests given by authority
  • Is easily annoyed or touchy
  • Is often vindictive and acrimonious
  • Often argues with authority figures
  • Has been spiteful or vindictive at least twice within the past 6 months

Causes of Oppositional Defiant Disorder

There is no known cause of oppositional defiant disorder. However, genetics and environment may both play very significant roles. If you have a family history of mental illness, especially mood disorders, then you or your child may have a higher chance of developing oppositional defiant disorder. This is greatly due to whether or not they will have a genetic predisposition to develop mental illness.

If someone were to have a genetic predisposition to develop mental illness then it may only take them enduring some sort of traumatic experience for them to develop full blown oppositional defiant disorder. Such a traumatic event may be that they were engaged in a very heated argument with their parent or another authority figure where they couldn’t get their way. Though this may seem minuscule, in the eyes of a young child with a genetic predisposition to develop mental illness it may be much more painful and damaging.

We do not entirely know what causes specific mental disorders to develop. However, there is an overwhelming consensus among most mental health professionals that both genetics and one’s environment play significant roles in the development of any given mental disorder. With that being said, these are likely to be the two best indicators of why someone may develop oppositional defiant disorder.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder Treatment

There is no treatment that is specifically designed to treat oppositional defiant disorder. Be that as it may, there are many different forms of treatment that can be very advantageous for someone suffering from this disorder. Among some of these treatments are individual therapy (e.g. CBT, DBT, etc.), family therapy, psychopharmacological treatment, multimodal intervention, and parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT), among others. To find out what the best course of action is for you or your child, you should first talk to your doctor.

Individual therapy

Psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be very beneficial for someone suffering from oppositional defiant disorder. CBT works by helping to modify dysfunctional emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. CBT is often used to help treat people suffering from anxiety disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Nevertheless, due to the fact that children suffering from oppositional defiant disorder will experience anxiety and anger, CBT may significantly help reduce their symptoms.



Family therapy

Family therapy is another form of treatment which may be highly advantageous as it allows the child to confront their parent or caregiver face to face in the presence of an experienced therapist. Child-parent confrontations which may erupt during family therapy will likely be a very productive occurrence as the therapist will be able to help each party work through their concerns more productively.

Psychopharmacological treatment

Psychiatric medication used to help control the symptoms of this disorder are mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and stimulants. You will need to talk to your doctor or psychiatrist first before you try any of these medications to ensure they are safe for you or your child to take. As with any medication, there will be potential benefits just as there will be potential side effects. So, it is important to take this into consideration before giving medication to your child.

Multimodal intervention

This is an intervention that concentrates on multiple risk factors, such as their family, peers, school life, and their neighborhood. It is very important that the therapist doing the multimodal intervention is very adept and experienced as they will likely bring up many sensitive subjects which may cause an emotional reaction out of the child with oppositional defiant disorder.

Parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT)

This may not be a very common form of treatment, but it may still be beneficial for children suffering from this disorder. PCIT works by having the therapist coach the parent(s) while they interact with their child. This can be done by having the therapist observe the parent and the child’s interactions together while behind a one-way mirror. The therapist will then give feedback and instructions to the parent through an earpiece. This can be beneficial for both the child and the parent.