Antisocial personalty disorder is a psychiatric condition in which a person consistently shows little to no regard for right and wrong and ignores the rights and feelings of others. Because of these destructive characteristics, people with this disorder are typically unable to fulfill responsibilities related to school, work or family.

Misunderstanding and misrepresentation often surround antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). Movies may portray people who have this condition as murderers, kidnappers and school shooters, which is rarely accurate. Individuals with ASPD can lead fulfilling, productive lives. However, their sense of normal life may look and feel different than other people’s lives as they may struggle with relationships, understanding emotions, controlling impulses and making healthy decisions.

What Is Antisocial Personality Disorder?

People with ASPD can be witty, charming and fun to be around. However, they can also manipulate other people, lie and exploit their loved ones. This is because ASPD is a psychiatric condition in which a person consistently shows little to no regard for right and wrong and ignores the rights and feelings of others. People with antisocial personality disorder tend to antagonize, manipulate or treat others harshly or with insignificance. They may show no guilt or remorse for their behavior.

People who have ASPD often violate the law, sometimes gaining a criminal record, because they may not distinguish right from wrong. They might display violent or impulsive behavior and may struggle with drug and alcohol use. Because of these destructive characteristics, people with this disorder are typically unable to fulfill responsibilities related to school, work or family.

Causes of Antisocial Personality Disorder

Personalities are a combination of thoughts, emotions and behaviors that form during childhood and make each person unique. It can be seen as the way people relate to the outside world, as well as how they see themselves. Personality, including antisocial personality, can be shaped through a collaboration of inherited traits and environmental factors.

The exact cause of antisocial personality disorder isn’t known, though there are many commonalities among those who are diagnosed with the disorder. With both physical and environmental causes, there are diverse pathways that lead individuals to be subjects of this disorder. Genetics may make an individual susceptible to developing ASPD and life situations or environment may prompt the development of the disorder.

Physical Development

Modern brain imaging case studies suggest abnormal brain function to be present in individuals with ASPD. Malfunctioning of the frontal lobe has been linked to individuals who commit aggressive and violent acts. This area of the brain controls mood and behavior, though in cases of ASPD patients, their aggression is impulsive and sudden, without premeditation or consideration of consequences.

A person’s chances of developing ASPD are much higher if their mother used drugs during pregnancy or smoked while pregnant. Research suggests that smoking lowers oxygen levels and may result in subtle brain injury to the fetus. Elevated thyroid hormone levels, or elevated testosterone levels, have also been associated as a physical cause of ASPD, as well as sociopathy in some cases.


A person’s environment may also contribute to the development of behavioral conditions, including antisocial behaviors. These traits may be learned early in life, too, as it is common for parents of disturbed or distressed children to display antisocial behavior themselves. Research has suggested that delinquent teens usually come from homes that were frequently disrupted by divorce, separation, or the absence of a parent. Inconsistent or inappropriate discipline and lack of supervision have also been linked to antisocial behaviors leading to personality disorders in adulthood.

For children in foster care and adopted children, the ability to form intimate and trusting relationships can be damaged because of the deprivation of significant emotional bonds. Many children in foster care move from home to home before their final adoption and may not get to develop and sustain appropriate emotional attachments with adult figures. This may clarify why some foster and adopted children are more likely to develop ASPD.

Symptoms of Antisocial Personality Disorder

Many antisocial personality disorder symptoms can be lifelong and detrimental to a person’s interpersonal relationships, career and schooling. However, there may be certain symptoms that decrease over time, primarily destructive or criminal behavior. Though it isn’t completely clear whether this decrease is a result of age or the growing awareness of the consequences that come from their antisocial behavior.

Individuals with antisocial personality disorder are not likely to seek help unless they have been urged to do so by a loved one. The antisocial personality disorder symptoms list can include actions and behaviors like:

  • Reckless disregard for the wellbeing of other people
  • Refusal to adhere to social norms
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Lack of empathy
  • Drug abuse or alcohol abuse

Reckless Disregard for the Well-Being of Other People

ASPD symptoms may include frequent arrogance, a sense of superiority and recurring problems with criminal behavior, hostility and aggression. Common characteristics of antisocial personality disorder include a disregard for right and wrong. These individuals often continue persistent lying or deceit to exploit other people. They may act callous, disrespectful and cynical toward other people. It is not uncommon for an individual with ASPD to use charm or wit to manipulate other people for personal gain.

Refusal to Adhere to Social Norms

Failure to conform to social norms and a lack of respect for the law may lead people with ASPD to repeatedly commit illegal acts. They may frequently get fired or resign from their jobs due to disregarding rules which they feel do not apply to them.

Impulsive Behavior

A lack of impulse control can lead an individual with ASPD to participate in dangerous behavior without thinking of their safety or that of the people around them. They may cancel prior plans with family or spouse to participate in a more exciting event at the last minute. They do not consider their loved ones’ feelings when making decisions to please themselves, which is indicative of a lack of empathy.

Lack of Empathy        

Superficial charm, inflated self-appraisal, and a lack of empathy are characteristics that have been commonly included in the distinguishing of ASPD. These individuals may also be irresponsible and often have a lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to, or justifying, mistreating other people. ASPD may also cause the person to be manipulative in their sexual relationships.

Drug or Alcohol Abuse

People who struggle with ASPD face a high risk of drugs and alcohol abuse and addiction. With or without diagnosis, many individuals in alcohol or drug abuse treatment programs have enough ASPD symptoms to confirm an antisocial personality diagnosis. Most patients with a co-occurring disorder of ASPD and substance abuse began their drug or alcohol use at an earlier age than people in treatment who do not have ASPD. This could suggest a relation to adolescent drug use and antisocial personality disorder.

How Is Antisocial Personality Disorder Diagnosed?

ASPD is difficult to diagnose because people with antisocial personality disorder may not provide an accurate interpretation of their symptoms. They often do not feel remorse or regard for right and wrong, so accurate information about their behaviors may not be displayed through a typical personality test.

An antisocial personality disorder test can be administered to find out if an individual meets the criteria for this condition. An ASPD test or psychological evaluation that explores thoughts, feelings, relationships, behavior patterns and family history can assist in diagnosis.

Usually, an antisocial personality disorder diagnoses will not occur before age 18, even if signs and symptoms arise during childhood or the early teen years. A diagnosis of ASPD is typically followed by evidence of conduct disorder symptoms in individuals under age 15.

Who Is at Risk for Antisocial Personality Disorder?

Antisocial personality disorder is more prominent in men than women. Because there has been a suggested genetic link, an individual may be predisposed to the disorder if they have a family history of ASPD. Other risk factors for antisocial personality disorder may include brain defects or injuries during developmental stages which can be linked to traumatic or abusive environments.

Antisocial Personality Disorder Statistics

Because personality disorders focus on long-standing patterns of behavior, they are most often diagnosed in adulthood. It is uncommon for them to be diagnosed in childhood or adolescence, because the person is still developing and maturing, and their personality could change.

According to research, the disorder occurs in between 0.2 and 3.3 percent in the general population at any given time. The rate of individuals in prison with antisocial personality disorder is high because people with ASPD often break the law. Studies conducted worldwide indicate that approximately 47 percent of male inmates and 21 percent of female inmates meet the criteria for an ASPD diagnosis.

If you or a loved one struggle with drug or alcohol addiction because of ASPD, The Recovery Village can help. You can receive comprehensive treatment for these co-occurring disorders from one of the facilities located throughout the country. To learn more about treatment programs, call The Recovery Village to speak with a representative.

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Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Krisi Herron, LCDC
Krisi Herron is an Adjunct Psychology Professor, a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor and a freelance writer who contributes to several mental health blogs. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.