Oppositional Defiant Causes & Effects

No one experiences ODD 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 ODD

Learn about ODD

It’s not unusual for children and teens to defy authority – especially their parents – from time to time, especially when they’re stressed out, hungry, or upset. They may express this defiance by disobeying, arguing, defying, or talking back to parents, teachers, or other adults in authority. Oppositional behaviors are a completely normal part of development, notably for two and three-year olds and teens. However, openly uncooperative and hostile behaviors become a serious concern when it is frequent and consistent, especially when compared to other children the same age and developmental level and causes problems in the child’s social, academic, and family life.

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a disorder affecting children and teens characterized by a pattern of vindictiveness, angry, and irritable behaviors persisting six months or longer exhibited during interaction with at least one person who is not a sibling. Children who have ODD exhibit an ongoing pattern of defiant, uncooperative, and hostile behaviors toward those in authority extreme enough to significantly interfere with the child’s daily life.

Symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder usually appear during the preschool years; the disorder often precedes conduct disorder, another type of disruptive behavior disorder with more severe symptoms. In order to prevent this transition, it’s imperative to diagnose and treat the disorder as soon as it is suspected. Treatment for oppositional defiant disorder often involves medications, therapies, and family training that helps to build positive familial interactions.


ODD statistics

Experts believe that between 2% and 16% of children and teens have oppositional defiant disorder. In younger children, ODD is more common among boys, while in older children it occurs at approximately the same rate in boys and girls. Roughly half the children who have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder have ODD.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for ODD

  • It’s generally believed that oppositional defiant disorder is not the result of a single risk factor, rather it is caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and physical risk factors working together. The most commonly cited causes and risk factors for ODD include:Genetic: Many children and teens with ODD have first-degree relatives who also have a mental health disorder, suggesting a familial vulnerability.Physical: Some studies suggest that injuries or inborn deficits to certain areas of the brain may lead to serious behavioral problems in children. In addition, ODD has been linked to abnormal levels of certain neurotransmitters, the chemicals in the brain that help nerve cells communicate properly.

    Environmental: There appear to be a number of environmental factors that can influence a child’s risk for developing ODD. A dysfunctional family life, inconsistent discipline, and substance abuse are all predisposing factors for the development of oppositional defiant disorder.

    Risk Factors:

    • Lack of parental discipline
    • Natural disposition of the child
    • Limitations or developmental delays in a child’s ability to process his or her thoughts or feelings
    • Being male
    • Childhood abuse – physical, emotional, sexual
    • Childhood neglect
    • Lack of positive parental involvement
    • Severely troubled relationship between parents
    • Financial problems in the family
    • Family instability – from divorce, multiple moves, switching schools or other situations that otherwise disrupt a child’s sense of consistency


Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of ODD

Signs and symptoms of ODD are usually exhibited in multiple environments, but may be more notable at school or home. Signs and symptoms of ODD will vary based upon individual genetic makeup, co-occurring disorders, presence of substance abuse, and severity of the disorder.

Common signs and symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Blaming others for his or her own mistakes or misbehavior
  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Excessive, extreme arguing with adults
  • Active defiance and refusal to comply with adult requests and/or rules
  • Deliberate attempts to upset or annoy other people
  • Easily annoyed by others
  • Loses control over him or herself
  • Speaking in a mean, hateful tone when upset or angry
  • Revenge-seeking behaviors
  • Frequently questioning the rules
  • Aggression toward peers
  • Difficulty maintaining friendships
  • Academic problems

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Frequent anger
  • Trouble relating to peers
  • Brewing resentment
  • Hypersensitive to criticism
  • Spitefulness
  • Low self-esteem


Effects of ODD

The long-term consequences of untreated or misdiagnosed oppositional defiant disorder can lead to problems in every area of a child’s life. Effects will vary based upon individual genetic makeup, symptom severity, presence of co-occurring disorders, and usage of drugs or alcohol. The most common complications and effects of untreated ODD may include:

  • Poor academic functioning
  • Inability to hold down a job
  • Poor interpersonal relationships
  • Delinquency
  • Conduct disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Substance abuse
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal ideations

Co-Occurring Disorders

ODD and co-occurring disorders

Many children who have ODD also have another mental health disorder. In order for treatment of ODD to be successful, all mental health disorders need to be treated at the same time. The most common co-occurring, comorbid mental health disorders include:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Learning disabilities
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Pervasive developmental disorder