Anti-Social Personality Disorder: Signs, Causes, Treatments

Many of us feel that impulsivity, aggression, irresponsibility, and a tendency to break norms and rules regularly are defining character traits of strong, rebellious, and independent personalities. But what happens when these personality traits manifest over time and cause immense distress in personal, occupational, and social areas of functioning? What if dominance in sports or rebelliousness against norms has deeper meanings than character traits?

Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) is a diagnosable mental health disorder. It is defined by a constant disregard for societal rules, a lack of empathy for others, and unremorseful and manipulative attitudes. 

ASPD gains much traction in mainstream media due to its association with psychopaths, sociopaths, or people who are simply deemed ‘bad’ or ‘evil.’ However, the situation is much more complex than what Netflix documentaries make you believe.

To help you understand the condition better, let us dive deeper into what antisocial personality disorder is, its symptoms, causes, and available treatment options.

Antisocial personality disorder

What Is antisocial Personality Disorder?

Antisocial personality disorder is a Cluster B personality disorder. It is a mental health condition that manifests in the form of thoughts, actions, and behaviors that defy legal and moral standards set for human existence. ASPD causes a trajectory of exploitative and reckless behavior with little to no remorse. The behaviors associated with ASPD can get so severe that they can lead to issues in relationships, unstable professional life, conduct issues, and often trouble with the law. 

As per the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the disorder is extremely rare and occurs in about one to four percent of the human population. It is common for prison inmates to have symptoms related to the disorder. According to research by Donald W Black, about one-third of jailed inmates had ASPD to some extent. 

ASPD is measured on a spectrum. The symptoms can display a whole range of extremities where some people can function well in society while others can display violent behaviors. People with ASPD are often deemed psychopaths. However, it is essential to note that the two conditions have significant distinctions and different diagnostic criteria to be met.

Symptoms Of ASPD

The following are the common symptoms of ASPD:

  • having a lack of moral judgment,
  • lying and manipulating people frequently for personal gains,
  • disrespecting people’s emotions and boundaries,
  • having condescending and dominating behaviors and attitudes,
  • exhibiting criminal behaviors without having regard or fear of law or punishment,
  • having a history of unstable jobs or relationships in life,
  • displaying frequent violent tendencies,
  • constantly blaming others for their problems,
  • showing a lack of remorse for hurting others, and
  • having unhealthy dependence on drugs, alcohol, or self-harm.

Causes Of ASPD

While there is no exact cause of ASPD, several different factors have been found that can make a person more likely to develop ASPD. These include:

1. Genetic factors: Antisocial personality disorders have been found to have genetic links. Therefore, children of people with ASPD are much more likely to develop the disorder. 

2. Brain-damaging incidents: People who have been through incidents that might cause brain damage also have an increased chance of developing ASPD. These incidents can include:

  • being exposed to alcohol in the womb,
  • suffering traumatic brain injuries, or
  • being exposed to lead in the womb.

3. Adverse childhood experiences: Certain childhood experiences, including neglect, abuse, exposure to violence, and having parents with substance abuse disorders, can cause ASPD. 

Read more: The Many Selves Within – A Guide To Dissociative Identity Disorder

Treatment Options For antisocial Personality Disorder

Treating antisocial personality disorder can take a lot of time and effort. Most people with ASPD refuse to ask for help or accept to become part of treatment plans. With that being said, it is not impossible to treat or manage the condition. 

Many people with ASPD do feel remorse for their behaviors and have the desire to change them. This desire can motivate them to find a treatment plan that works. 

However, it has been seen that many people with antisocial personality disorder lack the right resources to manage their condition unless they are in a correctional facility. 

As per research by Anthony Bateman, mentalization-based therapy (MBT) is an effective and promising option for people with ASPD. It helps people become more aware of their own as well as other people’s mental states. Additionally, there has been a need to understand and treat antisocial personality disorders on how the human brain processes empathy rather than concentrating treatments around how the disorder manifests. 

Read more: Best Online Therapy Platforms


Antisocial personality disorder is a diagnosable mental health condition characterized by defiance of societal norms and a lack of empathy. It is often associated with violent and criminal tendencies. However, just like other mental health disorders, ASPD occurs on a spectrum, and not only people living with it are violent in nature. 

Apart from ASPD, there are other forms of personality disorders that affect people. To learn more about them, click here

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