Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) in Adults

Adults with oppositional defiant disorder often have an extremely poor circle of social support. They also tend to have problems keeping their jobs.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) in Adults

Last update: 17 August, 2021

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) in adults is more common than you might think. People with this condition are always angry. They’re addicted to arguments, easily lose their temper, and experience problems within their family and social circle as well as at work. In fact, although this psychological condition tends to be more frequently associated with the child population, it’s also relatively common for it to continue into adulthood.

As a matter of fact, it’s extremely common for a defiant child to develop an antisocial personality disorder over the years. However, a lack of temperamental control in maturity leads to somewhat more of a problematic psychological reality. Indeed, this kind of type of opposition to authority in adulthood borders on far more challenging and dangerous types of behavior.

For this reason, it’s not a minor problem and the figures are worrying. In fact, it’s estimated that oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) affects between five percent and 15 percent of the school population. However, a good number of the cases aren’t diagnosed. Therefore, it’s extremely common for people to reach 20, 30, or 40 years of age exhibiting the kind of behavior that’s as adverse as it’s conflictive.

Oppositional defiant disorder in adults is very difficult to diagnose. This is because it involves antisocial traits and even addictive behaviors.

couple yelling at each other to represent Oppositional Defiant Disorder in adults

The symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder in adults

Some children can be challenging, difficult, and even troublesome. However, it doesn’t mean they suffer from ODD. In fact, ODD is a recurring condition in childhood in which a set of complex behaviors tend to spiral. These behaviors include aggressiveness towards authority figures, constant tantrums, vindictive behaviors, resentment, constant irritability, etc.

ODD is recognized as an externalizing disorder (Achenbach et al., 1983; Quay et al., 1987). It involves the maladaptive behaviors we mentioned earlier. Furthermore, if not treated early, it can lead to criminal behavior and serious social maladjustment in adulthood.

Read on to discover how oppositional defiant disorder manifests itself in adults.

Defining characteristics

The adult with ODD demonstrates a clear impossibility of integrating into an environment with basic norms. If the school stage was problematic for them, keeping a job in maturity may well prove to be even more of a challenge. For this reason, they don’t usually spend too long in any one position. Here are some of the behaviors they tend to exhibit:

  • They lose patience frequently. In fact, they have an extremely low resistance to any kind of frustration.
  • They present notable mood swings. However, their most common frame of mind is irritability.
  • They define themselves as rebellious figures. Furthermore, they think of themselves as independent people who live life in their own way. However, the obvious contradiction here is that they’re completely unable to adapt to almost any situation. They experience family and work problems. In addition, they find it hard to keep hold of friends and partners, etc.
  • They show no personal responsibility.
  • They don’t respect rules or laws. Nor do they accept advice.
  • They’re consistently angry with the world, the system, and every figure of authority.
  • They see themselves as misunderstood. Indeed, according to them, no one appreciates their worth, their potential, or their good work.
  • They tend to use verbal violence.
  • They’ll exhibit dangerous behaviors behind the wheel.
  • They may develop addictive and violent behaviors.

The causes of oppositional defiant disorder

There are several theories that explain the appearance of oppositional defiant disorder in adults. On the one hand, there are neurobiological approaches. These refer to genetic causes. Then, there’s the social explanation. This concerns dysfunctional patterns of upbringing and education. For instance, these often involve aggressive fathers and depressed yet controlling mothers.

While it’s true that the triggers for this externalizing disorder aren’t exactly clear, there’s one indisputable reality. This is the fact that any child or adolescent who doesn’t receive psychological attention for their defiant disorder develops more problematic behaviors in adulthood. In fact, it’s extremely common for them to end up with an antisocial personality disorder.

Washington State University (USA) conducted research concerning ODD. This study mentions that ODD sufferers possess a specific latent psychological structure. It can be observed in children between four-six years of age. In fact, these children exhibit hostility and defiance of authority even at this early age. These traits become more prominent between the ages of 14 and 16. Later, in early adulthood (18-25 years), antisocial behaviors emerge.

For this reason, to avoid and prevent oppositional defiant disorder in adults, as well as antisocial personality disorder,an early diagnosis is necessary.

However, the study warns of another fact. It suggests that ODD tends to be accompanied by other disorders such as hyperactivity or intermittent explosive disorder.

man screaming to represent Oppositional Defiant Disorder in adults

How is ODD treated in the adult population?

Adults with ODD have great difficulty in taking responsibility for their behavior. In fact, in many cases, they remain blind to the consequences of it. At the same time, they’re extremely susceptible to disorders such as depression. This is due to their isolation and the weakness of their support system.

As a matter of fact, it seems that one reality tends to contradict the other here. That’s because these people directly suffer the consequences of their actions. However, they often deny the need to make any changes in their behavior.

In many cases, a person with ODD or an antisocial disorder will only receive professional assistance when a court orders it. This only tends to happen when they commit a crime or become addicted to drugs, for example. Then, they’re forced to go through therapy.

What can be done in these cases? There are different approaches.

  • Individual therapy to promote impulse control, emotional management, social skills, problem-solving, etc. Furthermore, cognitive restructuring is aimed at treating dysfunctional thoughts. Also, operant techniques reduce antisocial behaviors.
  • It’s also important for them to undergo occupational therapy, educational, and psychosocial rehabilitation programs.

Finally, although it’s true that these are highly complex realities, there are always resources and good professionals available to help. In fact, they’re able to both re-educate and reintegrate these problematic behavioral profiles.

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  • Barry, T. D., Marcus, D. K., Barry, C. T., & Coccaro, E. F. (2013). The latent structure of oppositional defiant disorder in children and adults. Journal of psychiatric research47(12), 1932–1939. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2013.08.016
  • Vásquez, J., Feria, M., Palacios, L., & De la Peña, F. (2010). Guía clínica para el trastorno negativista desafiante. México: Instituto Nacional de Psiquiatría Ramón de la Fente Muñiz.(Serie: Guías clínicas para la atención en trastornos mentales).