Antisocial Personality Disorder - Risks and Causes

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What are causes and risk factors of antisocial personality disorder?

One of the most frequently asked questions about antisocial personality disorder by both professionals and laypeople is whether or not it is genetic. Many wonder if it is hereditary, just as much as hair, eye, or skin color; if this were the case, children of antisocial people would be highly expected to become antisocial themselves, whether or not they live with the antisocial parent. Fortunately, human beings are just not that simple. Like all personality disorders, and most mental disorders, antisocial personality disorder tends to be the result of a combination of biologic/genetic and environmental factors.

Although there are no clear biological causes for this disorder, research on the possible biologic risk factors for developing antisocial personality disorder indicates that, in those with antisocial personality disorder, the part of the brain that is primarily responsible for learning from one's mistakes and for responding to sad and fearful facial expressions (the amygdala) tends to be smaller and respond less robustly to the happy, sad, or fearful facial expressions of others. That lack of response may have something to do with the lack of empathy that antisocial individuals tend to have with the feelings, rights, and suffering of others. While some individuals may be more vulnerable to developing antisocial personality disorder as a result of their particular genetic background, that is thought to be a factor only when the person is also exposed to life events such as abuse or neglect that tend to put the person at risk for development of the disorder. Similarly, while there are some theories about the role of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and other hormonal fluctuations in the development of antisocial personality disorder, the disorder can, so far, not be explained as the direct result of such abnormalities.

Other conditions that are thought to be risk factors for antisocial personality disorder include substance abuse, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), reading disorder, or conduct disorder, which is diagnosed in children. People who experience a temporary or permanent brain dysfunction, also called organic brain damage, are at risk for developing violent or otherwise criminal behaviors. Theories regarding the life experiences that increase the risk for developing antisocial symptoms in teenagers and adults provide important clues for its prevention. Examples of such life experiences include a history of prenatal drug exposure or malnutrition, childhood physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; neglect; deprivation or abandonment; associating with peers who engage in antisocial behavior; or a parent who is either antisocial or alcoholic.

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