Oppositional Defiant Disorder Signs & Symptoms

Not everyone experiences ODD the same way. Understanding the signs, symptoms and effects of ODD is an important step toward recovery for your child.

Understanding ODD

Learning about ODD

A mental health condition that is typically diagnosed in childhood or early adolescence, oppositional defiant disorder is characterized by pervasive patterns of disobedience, defiance, and hostility that is conveyed towards adults or other types of authority figures. While all children will inevitably act out negatively from time to time, those who are suffering from oppositional defiant disorder, also known as ODD, will exhibit such excessive levels of disobedience and negative acting out that it begins to adversely impact various areas of their lives. Youth with ODD will engage in behaviors that have the sole purpose of causing conflict or eliciting disturbances amongst those around them, causing disruption in their home lives, their academic lives, and their social lives. Despite the development of negative consequences that occur as a direct result of their behaviors, these young people fail to gain control over their poor, and often destructive, impulses. Fortunately, there are viable treatment options available that can help children and adolescents overcome oppositional defiant disorder.


ODD statistics

Oppositional defiant disorder is believed to be one of the most commonly diagnosed of behavioral disorders amongst children and adolescents, with estimates stating that approximately 10% of youth meet criteria for this mental health condition. Fortunately, however, studies have shown that two-thirds of children who receive a diagnosis of ODD eventually overcome their symptoms, with nearly 70% of those previously diagnosed with the illness no longer displaying symptoms by the time they reach the age of 18. ODD has proven to be more common in boys than it is in girls, with estimates concluding 11% to 9% respectively.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for ODD

The onset of oppositional defiant disorder is believed to lay in a combination of factors, including genetic and environmental causes, as well as the presence of possible extraneous risk factors. Consider the following:

Genetic: There is believed to be a strong hereditary link to the onset of ODD. Children who have family members who suffer from mental health conditions, predominantly that of depression, bipolar disorder, or personality disorders, are much more susceptible to developing ODD than are children who do not have similar genetic backgrounds. Furthermore, and as would be expected, children who have family members who have a history of ODD or conduct disorder are at an even greater vulnerability to experiencing the onset of this illness.

Environmental: If there exists a biological predisposition for mental illness, there can be certain environmental factors that, when experienced, can render a child or adolescent susceptible to developing symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder. For example, exposure to family conflict, being subjected to inconsistent parenting, or facing an overall stressful or chaotic home environment can all impact a young person’s vulnerability to experiencing the onset of ODD.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal or family history of substance abuse
  • Dysfunctional home life
  • Presence of familial strife
  • Experiencing trauma or a series of trauma
  • Lack of parental involvement or inconsistent parenting
  • Repeated exposure to crime and/or violence
  • Being the victim of abuse and/or neglect

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of ODD

The signs and symptoms that may indicate the presence of oppositional defiant disorder will inevitably vary from child to child. Additionally, some of the symptoms that are displayed by males tend to be different than those exhibited by females. Examples of possible behavioral, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms that may manifest as a result of this disorder can include, but are not limited to, the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • School refusal
  • Refusing to follow rules
  • Seeking revenge, despite being unwarranted
  • Willingly destroying friendships or other interpersonal relationships
  • Deliberately causing familial conflict
  • Blaming others
  • Behaving out of spite
  • Constant arguing, regardless of the topic
  • Frequent, sometimes violent, temper tantrums
  • Acting in a hostile manner towards others
  • Failing to cooperate, regardless of the situation
  • Blatant disobedience and defiance

Physical symptoms:

  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Presence of injuries as the result of violent behaviors

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Becoming easily frustrated / low levels of tolerance
  • Lacking impulse control
  • Poor ability to use appropriate decision-making skills
  • Hindered ability to reason and use sound judgment
  • Experiencing difficulty sustaining attention

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Excessive irritability
  • Excessive agitation
  • Pervasive feelings of annoyance
  • Chronically negative attitude
  • Feelings of hostility
  • Feelings of resentment
  • Rage
  • Heightened levels of anxiety
  • Low sense of self-worth


Effects of ODD

Suffering from the pervasive symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder and being denied access to appropriate treatment interventions can render youth susceptible to experiencing a number of adverse consequences. Examples of some of the negative effects that can be elicited by untreated ODD may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Behavioral problems at school can lead to the occurrence of disciplinary action, including possible suspension or expulsion
  • Declined academic performance, resulting in academic failure
  • Peer rejection as the result of acting out behaviors
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Familial discord
  • Relationship disturbances, including an inability to develop and maintain healthy interpersonal relationships
  • Deterioration of self-esteem
  • Interaction with the legal system as the result of engaging in criminal activity
  • Participating in dangerous, high-risk behaviors and facing the consequences of those behaviors
  • Onset of self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

ODD and co-occurring disorders

When children and adolescents are suffering from oppositional defiant disorder, it is not uncommon for them to experience symptoms that are synonymous with other mental health conditions. Examples of various conditions that have been known to exist alongside the presence of ODD include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Impulse control disorders
  • Language disorders
  • Intellectual developmental disorder
  • Substance use disorders

I give Southwood a big thanks — they were the help that I have been looking for. The staff was wonderful!

– Former client