Causes & Effects of Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Learn how to recognize the signs and symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder and get help for your child, teen, or young adult.

Understanding Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Learn about oppositional defiant disorder

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a behavioral disorder, commonly diagnosed in children and adolescents, which is characterized by an ongoing pattern of defiant, hostile, and annoying behavior. This behavior continues to persist beyond a period of six months and it is excessive compared to other children that age. The defiant behaviors that are associated with ODD become so severe that they will prevent a child from functioning properly on a daily basis. Furthermore, this disorder interferes with a child’s ability to succeed academically, engage in social activities, or develop relationship with their peers.

In addition to behavioral symptoms, there are a number of mood-related symptoms that occur will occur in someone with ODD. Most commonly a child with ODD will become irritable and display angry moods, which can cause them to act out under certain circumstances. Due to the blatant disregard for authority and the resulting consequences as well as the mood symptoms, children with ODD can develop a number of lasting effects if the proper treatment is not implemented.


Oppositional defiant disorder statistics

Experts estimate that over 10% of children meet the criteria for an ODD diagnosis. Boys are said to be more susceptible to this mental disorder, with about 11% of pre-pubescent boys having oppositional defiant disorder and 9% of pre-pubescent girls having ODD. Additionally, boys and girls are said to present with symptoms differently and at varying levels of severity. However, even though there are differences in prevalence and severity of symptoms between boys and girls, research has found that almost 70% of children with oppositional defiant disorder no longer struggle with symptoms by the time they reach late adolescence.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for oppositional defiant disorder

While the exact cause for this disorder is unknown, it has been agreed upon by researchers that there are a number of causes and risk factors that lead to the development of ODD. The most common explanations include:

Genetic: Since children who have developed ODD generally have close family members with a history of mental illness, this is an indicator ODD has a genetic link.

Physical: Deficits in the brain or injuries to certain areas of the brain can lead to the development of serious behavioral problem among children. Additionally, chemical imbalances in the brain, as a result of abnormal functioning of neurotransmitters, are known to bring about symptoms of mental illnesses. More specifically, neurotransmitters help nerve cells in the brain communicate with one another and when they are not working properly nerve messages may not be received leading to symptoms of ODD.

Environmental: It is widely believed that a person’s environment has a significant impact on the development of mental health disorders such as ODD. This may be especially important because the onset of ODD symptoms occurs in childhood, making the environment in which a child is raised extremely influential. Factors such as a chaotic home life, inconsistent discipline by parents, and being exposed to abuse, neglect, or trauma at an early age can all possibly lead to the onset of ODD symptoms.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of mental illness
  • Witnessing violent or aggressive behaviors
  • Exposure to trauma, abuse, and/or neglect
  • Child’s natural disposition
  • Developmental delays in child’s ability to process thoughts and feelings
  • Being raised in a chaotic and stressful environment
  • Financial problems in the family
  • Inconsistent parenting
  • Exposure to substance use or abuse

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder

At times it may be hard to determine the difference from a strong-willed, emotional child and one that has ODD, especially since all children will display oppositional behavior at times. The signs of ODD usually appear before a child is 8 years old and tend to get gradually worse as time goes on. The following symptoms may present themselves in a child with ODD:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Consistently disobedient
  • Blames other for their mistakes
  • Seeks revenge or is spiteful
  • Refuses to follow rules
  • Displaying aggressive behaviors
  • Instigating behaviors
  • Swears or uses obscene language
  • Intentionally destroys relationships
  • Belligerent behaviors
  • Is uncooperative
  • Repeatedly throws temper tantrums
  • Excessively argues with adults or other authority figures
  • Deliberately tries to annoy or upset others
  • Is easily annoyed by others
  • Says mean and hateful things when upset
  • Abuses drugs or alcohol 

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor concentration
  • Inability to think before acting or speaking 

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Easily frustrated
  • Feels constantly annoyed
  • Persistent negativity


Effects of oppositional defiant disorder

Left untreated ODD can produce an assortment of effects that will only make life more difficult for the child. Additionally, if not properly treated managing ODD can be extremely difficult for parents. In order to prevent the development of more serious behavioral health problems and additional negative consequences treatment needs to be sought as soon as possible. Some potential long-term effects can include:

  • Rejection by classmates and other peers
  • Poor social skills
  • Increase aggressive behavior
  • Development of conduct disorder
  • Inability to formulate meaningful relationships
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Disciplinary action at school including suspension or expulsion
  • Engagement in risky behaviors
  • Interaction with law enforcement and incarceration
  • Substance abuse
  • Conduct disorder

Co-Occurring Disorders

Oppositional defiant disorder and co-occurring disorders

In many cases oppositional defiant disorder occurs alongside other behavioral or mental health disorders. Some of these include:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Intermittent explosive disorder
  • Language disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Intellectual development disorder
  • Substance use disorder

I feel so much happier and healthier after getting help at Millcreek of Pontotoc.

– A former patient