Causes & Effects of Oppositional Defiant Disorder

No one experiences oppositional defiant disorder the same way as someone else. Understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of ODD is a key component toward starting the recovery journey.

Understanding Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Learn about ODD

Characterized by angry, hostile, and defiant behavior that is beyond the norm for typical childhood behavior, oppositional defiant disorder is a mental health disorder that can have severe implications in a young person’s life. A young person with oppositional defiant disorder may appear to be consistently angry and is usually very stubborn. These children will often engage in behavior that is meant to annoy others, throw frequent tantrums, constantly argue with parents and other authority figures, and are quick to take revenge if someone does something they do not like. All of these disruptive behaviors will cause considerable amounts of distress for the child’s family and will significantly impact the child’s ability to succeed academically and function socially. If treatment for ODD is not sought, young people with this disorder are at an increased risk for experiencing a number of life-altering effects that sometimes are unable to be reversed.

If you are concerned about your child’s behavior you should seek help from a mental health professional who will be able to help you identify treatment options that will be able to get your child’s behavior under control. The earlier this disorder is managed the better. Effective treatment options for ODD can help your child learn how to control their behavioral impulses as well as increase their self-esteem and rebuild positive relationships.


ODD statistics

Research studies on oppositional defiant disorder have determined that about 2% to 16% of children and adolescents suffer from this mental health disorder. In younger children, ODD tends to be more common in boys. However, in older children it occurs almost equally in males and females. While it has also been found that nearly 70% of youth who battle this condition no longer display symptoms once in their late teens or early twenties, the prevalence rates of this disorder is believed to be 10% among all children and adolescents prior to reaching late adolescence.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for ODD

Although there has been extensive research done, mental health professionals are still unable to identify an exact cause for the development of oppositional defiant disorder. However, the general consensus is that the symptoms of ODD are elicited from a combination of genetic, biological, and environment factors. The following information describes in more detail how a young person may come to develop ODD:

Genetic: As is the case for many mental health conditions, there is evidence to suggest that a genetic component may exists. Young people that have close family members with mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders, or personality disorders may be at a higher risk for the development of ODD.

Physical:  Young people with ODD may have deficits in certain areas of their brain or may have abnormal amounts of certain types of neurotransmitters or chemicals in the brain, both of which can contribute to the onset of oppositional defiant disorder symptoms. If certain neurotransmitters and chemicals in the brain that are responsible for mood regulation and impulse control are not properly balanced it will prevent an adolescent to be unable to properly respond to stress and other factors in the environment.

Environmental: Certain environmental factors, such as a dysfunctional home life, family history of mental illness, or inconsistent discipline implemented by parents, can all potentially lead to the development of ODD. Other possible environmental factors may include: experiencing a traumatic event, being the victim of some form of physical abuse and/or neglect, and having a parent who is struggling with an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol.

Risk Factors:

  • Lack of supervision
  • Having parents with a trouble marriage
  • Harsh or inconsistent discipline
  • Being raised in a chaotic / stressful home
  • Exposure to substance use or abuse
  • Family history of mental illness such as ADHD, ODD, or conduct problems
  • Financial problems
  • Witnessing violent or aggressive behaviors
  • Exposure to trauma, abuse, and/or neglect
  • Unstable family environment

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of ODD

An adolescent with oppositional defiant disorder is going to display a wide range of behaviors that include excessive, persistent anger, frequent angry outbursts, and the general disregard for the rights of others. However, symptoms are going to present differently from child to child depending upon a number of different characteristics unique to each child. The following signs and symptoms may be present in a young person who is struggling with ODD:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Is hostile toward parents or other authority figures
  • Consistently disobedient
  • Is constantly argumentative
  • Has frequent temper tantrums
  • Is uncooperative
  • Consistently blames others for their mistakes or misbehavior
  • Refuse to comply with adults requests or rules
  • Seeks revenge
  • Deliberately annoys others
  • Engagement in instigating and belligerent behaviors
  • Intentionally destroying relationships
  • Refusing to adhere to rules
  • Aggressive behaviors or getting into physical fights

Physical symptoms:

  • Injuries due to physical aggression
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased energy
  • Increase in body temperature

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Inability to think before acting or speaking
  • Poor concentration
  • Low tolerance for frustration
  • Believes that unreasonable demands are being placed on them

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Problems making new or maintaining friends
  • Has low self-esteem
  • Is consistently negative
  • Feels constantly annoyed
  • Is touchy
  • Feels anger and resentment
  • Is spiteful and vindictive


Effects of ODD

If a young person is displaying symptoms associated with ODD, it is important to get him or her the treatment he or she needs as soon as possible. Without proper treatment, young people with ODD can experience a number of negative effects that could potential cause short-term and long-term problems. The following are some examples of adverse consequences that can develop as a result of untreated ODD:

  • Rejection by classmates and other peers
  • Development of more serious mental health disorders
  • Disciplinary action at school, which may include suspension or expulsion
  • Inability to succeed academically
  • Severe delinquency
  • Interaction with law enforcement
  • Inability to formulate meaningful relationships
  • Lacks self-esteem
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Substance abuse

Co-Occurring Disorders

ODD and co-occurring disorders

It is fairly common for a young person with oppositional defiant disorder to meet the diagnostic criteria for another mental health disorder or struggle with certain cognitive impairments. In many cases the presence of multiple mental health conditions has been known to exacerbate behavioral problems. Some of the most common conditions that are seen alongside ODD include the following:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Intermittent explosive disorder
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Learning disorders
  • Language difficulties
  • Intellectual disability
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Substance use disorder
What Past Clients Say

Comparing my son's behavior from before going to DBI to now is such a turnaround! I cannot thank the staff enough!

– Parent of a former client