Causes & Effects of Oppositional Defiant Disorder

At San Jose Behavioral Health, we believe education is an important first step in the effort to manage oppositional defiant disorder. Understanding the signs, symptoms, and effects of ODD can help you get the right type and level of care for yourself or a loved one.

Understanding ODD

Learn About ODD

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) may be diagnosed when an individual displays hostility, defiance, and disobedience to laws and authority figures. This disorder is often diagnosed in childhood or adolescence, but it also applies to adults. ODD often causes an individual to cause disruptions or conflict. These individuals may cause disturbances at work or school, online, or among family and friends.

This disorder leads to strongly destructive impulses. The result is often strained relationships, low self-worth, and even legal struggles. In some cases, these behaviors only occur in one location, such as the home. More severe cases tend to lead to conflict in a number of settings. Individuals who have this disorder may not be aware that the behaviors are problematic and often justify these behaviors as a response to circumstances, people, or situations.

These behaviors continue even when consequences are severe. Fortunately, there are specific treatment methods that can help both individuals and families work through ODD.


ODD Statistics

Most studies on oppositional defiant disorder have looked closely at this disorder among children and adolescents although it does also impact adults. ODD is estimated to impact between 1 and 11 percent of the population. This disorder is only slightly more common in male children than female children. In adults, this disorder affects both men and women equally.

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors of ODD

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

Genetic: Several genetic markers are somewhat linked to ODD. As with other mental health conditions, individuals who have family members with mental health diagnoses may be more likely to suffer from this condition.

Environmental: Disruptions in childhood are commonly correlated with the development of oppositional defiant disorder. Chaotic home life, abuse, family violence or conflict, and chronic stress all contribute to the development of oppositional defiant disorder.

Risk Factors:

  • Male gender in younger individuals
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Experiences of abuse or neglect, particularly in childhood
  • Exposure to crime or violence in the community or at home
  • Substance use among family members
  • Personal history of substance use
  • Chaotic home life
  • History of trauma, especially repeated trauma

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of ODD

Oppositional defiant disorder may look different among different age groups. Some symptoms are more likely to be displayed in men and not women. Personality and life experience also contribute to the way this illness manifests. Some symptoms and signs that indicate this disorder may include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Defiance of rules or laws
  • Refusal to complete tasks at work or school
  • Repeated family conflict or family violence
  • Engaging in arguments of any type, regardless of topic
  • Hostility or aggressiveness toward others
  • Emotionally or physically harming others
  • Blaming others for unacceptable behavior
  • Seeking revenge for perceived slights

Physical symptoms:

  • Muscle tension
  • Stomachaches or headaches
  • Injuries from fights or violence
  • Elevated heart rate or blood pressure

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor decision making ability
  • Lower tolerance for aggravation or frustration
  • Difficulty sustaining attention
  • Lack of good judgment
  • Low ability to control sudden impulses

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Agitation
  • Anger or fits of rage
  • Resentment or hostility towards others
  • Negative outlook or attitude
  • Inability to overcome small annoyances
  • Irritability
  • Low self-worth or hopelessness
  • Anxiety

Lasting Effects

Effects of ODD

Without treatment, oppositional defiant disorder can cause a number of issues in an individual’s life. The effects of this disorder may lead to increasingly serious repercussions as the individual grows older. ODD may lead to a cycle of consequences that grow out of hand, and may even involve legal difficulties. Some unfortunate consequences of this disorder include:

  • Arrest or jail sentences
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Lowered work performance resulting in joblessness
  • Self-injuring or self-harming behaviors
  • Rejection by colleagues or peers
  • Hopelessness and low self-esteem
  • Participation in illegal activities
  • Relationship conflicts or relationship loss
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Divorce, family conflict, or separation

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders

In some cases, adolescents and adults who struggle with oppositional defiant disorder must also struggle with additional mental health disorders. In other cases, ODD may trigger other mental health concerns, such as depression. Some commonly co-occurring disorders include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Language disorders
  • Intellectual developmental disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Impulse control disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety disorders

Our little boy had been acting out. Shouting at me, arguing with teachers, doing the opposite of what we told him to do... My husband and I knew we needed help. After some research, we stumbled upon San Jose. He went through their adolescent program and got treatment for what we now know as oppositional defiant disorder. He has since returned to school and has been behaving much better. Our family is so happy with the results.

– Brenda W.