What is oppositional defiant disorder?

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a condition in which a child displays a continuing pattern of uncooperative, defiant, hostile, and annoying behavior toward people in authority. This behavior often disrupts the child’s normal daily functioning, including relationships and activities within the family and at school.

It is not unusual for children—especially those in their “terrible twos” and early teens—to be oppositional, or defiant of authority, once in a while. They might express their defiance by arguing, disobeying, or talking back to adults, including their parents or teachers. When this behavior lasts longer than six months and goes beyond what is usual for the child’s age, it might suggest that the child has ODD.

Many children and teens who have ODD also have other disorders, such as:

Some children with ODD go on to develop a more serious behavior condition called conduct disorder.

How common is oppositional defiant disorder?

ODD typically begins by age 8. It is estimated that 2 to 16 percent of children and teens have ODD. In younger children, ODD is more common in boys; in older children, it occurs about equally in boys and in girls.

What causes oppositional defiant disorder?

The exact cause of ODD is not known, but it is believed that a combination of biological, genetic, and environmental factors might play a role.

  • Biological: Some studies suggest that defects in or injuries to certain areas of the brain can lead to behavior disorders. In addition, ODD has been linked to special chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters help nerve cells in the brain communicate with each other. If these chemicals are out of balance or not working properly, messages might not make it through the brain correctly, leading to symptoms. Further, many children and teens with ODD also have other mental disorders, such as ADHD, learning disorders, depression, and anxiety disorder.
  • Genetic: As ODD may be inherited, it is important to note that many children and teens with ODD have close family members with mental disorders, including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders.
  • Environmental: Factors such as a chaotic family life, a family history of mental disorders and/or substance abuse, and inconsistent discipline by parents.

What are the symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder?

Symptoms of ODD can be grouped into three categories:

  • Angry/irritable mood:
    • Loses temper easily
    • Frequent outbursts of anger and resentment
    • Touchy and/or easily annoyed
    • Angry and/or disrespectful
  • Argumentative/defiant behavior:
    • Excessively argues with adults
    • Actively refuses to comply with requests and rules
    • Blames others for the child’s own mistakes
    • Deliberately tries to annoy or upset others, or is easily annoyed by others
  • Vindictiveness
    • Is spiteful and seeks revenge
    • Says mean and hateful things when angry or upset

In addition, many children with ODD are moody, easily frustrated and have low self-esteem. They also might abuse drugs and alcohol.

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