Signs & Symptoms of ODD

Learn about the side effects, causes, signs and symptoms of ODD. Millcreek of Magee Treatment Center offers the best residential treatment and home-based programs for children & adolescents struggling with ODD.

Understanding ODD

Learn more about ODD

A child or adolescent who is constantly arguing with adults, has frequent temper tantrums, and demonstrates strong feelings of resentment and anger is displaying signs that may indicate the presence of oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). This disruptive mental health disorder is characterized by an assortment of behavioral and emotional symptoms that will ultimately cause a significant amount of disruption in a child’s life.

A child’s defiant attitude towards adults and peers, in addition to hostile and aggressive behavior, can cause conflict at school, at home, and within social settings. When it comes to a parent or another person in the position of authority, these children will be defiant, disobedient, and spiteful, deliberately trying to upset or annoy them. Additionally, they do not think much in regard to the consequences of their behavior. All of these symptoms can lead to a child with this disorder lacking important friendships, doing poorly in school, or developing symptoms of depression or anxiety. It is essential that a child with oppositional defiant disorder get treatment so that these inappropriate behaviors do not cause more serious problems.


ODD statistics

Research has concluded that ODD occurs in 6%-25% of children and adolescents, with boys being more affected by this condition than girls. More specifically, it is estimated that 11% of boys meet criteria for this disorder as compared to 9% of girls. It has also been found that roughly 70% of young people with ODD will eventually outgrow the symptoms of this condition by the time they reach late adolescence.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for ODD

Researchers and medical experts have not yet identified one root cause for the development of oppositional defiant disorder. However, the extensive research that has been done has been able to tell us that this disorder may develop out of biological, genetic, and environmental factors. Here are some of the most commonly considered theories:

Genetic: Evidence that has been obtained by researchers in the field of mental health suggests that this disorder may, in fact, be hereditary. It has often been the case that children and adolescents with this disorder have close relatives that struggle with this illness as well.

Physical: The development of oppositional defiant disorder is known to be associated with changes in the neurotransmitters in the brain. These neurotransmitters are the chemical transmitters of impulses between nerves cells and when the level of these brain chemicals is off, it leads to sudden changes in mood and in the thinking process. This causes a sense of irritation, no fear of punishment, and an inability to adequately perceive reality, which can lead to the development of psychiatric and neurological disorders like ODD.

Environmental: The surrounding environment at home and even at school can play an important role in the development of oppositional defiant disorder among children. Unfavorable psychological situations can put a child with unstable neurotransmitter levels or a genetic predisposition at an even greater risk for this disorder. For example, domestic violence, sexual abuse, unstable parents, or overall poor quality of life can all contribute to the development of ODD.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of mental illness
  • Exposure to trauma
  • Being the victim of abuse and/or neglect
  • Being raised in a chaotic environment
  • Stressful home environment
  • Inconsistent parenting
  • Exposure to substance use or abuse
  • Witnessing violence or aggressive behaviors

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of ODD

Since part of being a child is being headstrong and, at times, defying authority figures it can be difficult to determine if a child is suffering from oppositional defiant disorder. However, there are some common symptoms that may indicate that your child may, in fact, have ODD. The following signs and symptoms may include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Constant disobedience
  • Seeks revenge
  • Breaks rules or laws
  • Constantly arguing
  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Frequently fighting
  • Temper tantrums
  • Belligerent behaviors
  • Being uncooperative
  • Blames others
  • Engages in instigating behaviors
  • Intentionally destroys relationships

Physical symptoms:

  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Physical injury due to violent behavior

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Inability to concentrate
  • Low tolerance for frustration
  • Poor decision-making

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Constant negative attitude
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Inept social skills


The effects of ODD

If the symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder are not properly treated, especially when exacerbated by other mental health problems, it can be extremely difficult for parents and harmful for the affected child. The following long-term difficulties have the potential to occur when ODD symptoms are not cared for:

  • Disciplinary action at school
  • Inability to succeed academically
  • Problems making and keeping friends
  • Substance use
  • Interaction with law enforcement
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Development of another mental health disorder

Co-Occurring Disorders

ODD and co-occurring disorders

Children with oppositional defiant disorder also tend to experience symptoms of other mental health conditions and behavioral problems. Examples of such disorders are listed below.

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Intermittent explosive disorder
  • Learning and communication disorders
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Language disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Substance use disorders
  • Conduct disorder