ODD Signs, Symptoms & Effects

Often times the signs of oppositional defiant disorder can be difficult to identify. One of the most important steps in the recovery journey is understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of oppositional defiant disorder.

Understanding ODD

Learn about ODD

A mental health condition that is typically diagnosed in childhood or early adolescence, yet whose symptoms can continue to persist into late adolescence and adulthood when left untreated, oppositional defiant disorder is characterized by persistent patterns of disruptive, disobedient, defiant, and hostile behaviors that are most typically directed at parents, teachers, or other adults in a position of authority. While childhood development is ripe with displays of disruptive behaviors and disobedience, children who are suffering from oppositional defiant disorder, also known as ODD, will display such behaviors to an extent that is much more severe and that ultimately leads to significant disruption in their lives and in the lives of those around them. The behavioral and emotional disturbances that are characteristic of ODD can create so much turmoil and distress in the lives of those afflicted by it that they begin to struggle to function appropriately on a daily basis. Individuals who are plagued by the symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder will experience significant difficulties and display detrimentally negative behaviors at home, in school, at work, and in social settings. Fortunately, there are many treatment options available that can help those with ODD learn how to control their impulses, manage their symptoms, and achieve an overall higher quality of life.


ODD statistics

As was previously mentioned, oppositional defiant disorder is a condition that is most commonly diagnosed during childhood and adolescence. Research on the prevalence of ODD has offered estimates that state that approximately 10% of young people meet criteria for a clinical diagnosis of oppositional defiant disorder. Males are said to be more commonly affected by this disorder than are females, with 11% of boys meeting criteria for this illness as compared to 9% of girls. While diagnoses tend to be given in the young stages of development, adults can be afflicted by the symptoms of ODD as well. Yet in most of these cases, the adults presented with symptoms earlier in their lives but remained undiagnosed. Encouragingly, studies have shown that approximately two-thirds of young people who receive a diagnosis of ODD during childhood go on to overcome the majority of their negative behavioral disturbances as they grow into adulthood. These studies state that 70% of individuals who had previously received a diagnosis of ODD were no longer displaying symptoms by the time they reached the age of 18.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for ODD

Developmental specialists, researchers, and experts in the field of mental health have concluded that there are various contributing factors that work together in eliciting the onset of oppositional defiant disorder. Such factors include genetic components, physiological components, and environmental components, along with other various risk factors. Consider the following the explanations in regards to the origins of ODD:

Genetic: The existence of a family history of certain mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder, depressive disorders, or personality disorders can cause an individual to be more susceptible to developing oppositional defiant disorder. More so, when there is a family history of ODD, conduct disorder, or antisocial personality disorder in particular, individuals have an even higher likelihood of suffering from those disorders themselves. Due to the extensive research that has shown the prevalence of such disorders running in families, it is widely agreed upon that there exists a strong genetic component in regards to the development of ODD.

Physical: Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that are responsible for allowing communication to appropriately occur throughout the various areas of the brain. This communication is necessary in order for individuals to regulate emotions, control impulses, and manage behaviors. When these chemicals become imbalanced, and such communication waves are subsequently disturbed, the onset of symptoms of ODD can result.

Environmental: The environments in which individuals spend a great deal of time are believed to have an impact on one’s susceptibility to developing oppositional defiant disorder. Highly stressful environments, chaotic environments, and dysfunctional environments all have the potential to render an individual susceptible to developing the symptoms of ODD. Additionally, when one is exposed to things such as violence, crime, and/or drug abuse, he or she is at a higher risk of experiencing the onset of ODD. Furthermore, situations in which individuals have experienced significant traumas or who have fallen victim to various forms of abuse and/or neglect can also elicit the development of oppositional defiant disorder.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Family history of mental health conditions and/or personality disorders
  • History of experiencing trauma
  • History of being abused, neglected, and/or victimized
  • Growing up in a chaotic environment
  • Dysfunctional home life
  • Presence of familial discord
  • Exposure to violence, especially in early childhood
  • Lack of parental involvement or inconsistent parenting
  • Being exposed to highly stressful environments on a consistent basis
  • Exposure to substance abuse
  • Personal history of abusing substances

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of ODD

The signs and symptoms that are displayed by individuals with oppositional defiant disorder will vary based on a number of different factors. Such factors include the person’s age, the length of time during which the symptoms have been present yet left untreated, and the support system (or lack of support system) available to the individual, among others. Examples of behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms that may be exhibited by someone who is struggling with ODD can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Inept social skills
  • Chronic arguing
  • School refusal
  • Frequent absences from work
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Acting belligerently
  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse
  • Having difficulty making or keeping friends
  • Deliberately attempting to upset others
  • Intentionally destroying relationships
  • Consistently uncooperative
  • Verbal or physical aggression
  • Instigative behaviors
  • Persistent disobedience
  • Blaming others
  • Failure to adhere to rules and/or laws

Physical symptoms:

  • Chronic headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Physical injuries resulting from violent or self-harming behaviors

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Drastically low frustration tolerance
  • Poor, or lack of, decision-making skills
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Poor, or lack of, impulse control

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Excessive agitation
  • Excessive irritability
  • Feelings of hostility
  • Feelings of resentment
  • Persistent negative attitude
  • Pervasive feelings of annoyance
  • Low self-esteem
  • Suicidal ideation


Effects of ODD

When individuals are not afforded the opportunity to receive treatment for the symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder, there are a number of detrimental effects that can result. The following are examples of effects that could potentially occur when the symptoms of ODD remain ignored:

  • Disciplinary action occurring at school, including suspension or expulsion
  • Academic failure
  • Peer rejection
  • Inability to obtain and/or maintain steady employment
  • Failure to develop and/or maintain healthy, meaningful interpersonal relationships
  • Isolation
  • Familial discord
  • Interaction with law enforcement
  • Deterioration of one’s self-esteem and overall sense of self-worth
  • Engaging in dangerous, high risk behaviors and suffering from the consequences of such
  • Partaking in self-harming behavior(s)
  • Pervasive suicidal ideation
  • Onset of symptoms of other mental health conditions

Co-Occurring Disorders

ODD and co-occurring disorders

Individuals who are struggling with the presence of oppositional defiant disorder often find themselves facing the added challenges of dealing with symptoms that are synonymous with other mental health conditions. Examples of various disorders that have been cited as co-occurring alongside ODD include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Intermittent explosive disorder (IED)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Intellectual development disorder
  • Language disorder
  • Substance use disorders
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I came here during the worst time of my life. I had so much anxiety coming in but the girls in the admissions area were so pleasant and answered all my questions. The hospital was clean and staff were friendly and helpful on the unit. The medicine they gave me helped so much, and I finally feel like myself again. If you’re willing to participate and go to all the groups, you will get something out of the program. I went right from inpatient to their day program for a week afterwards, and that helped me stay focused too.

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