What Is Antisocial Personality Disorder?

It's one of 10 personality disorders.

Chances are good that you know or have at least met someone with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), one of 10 different types of personality disorders.

While the terms "sociopath" or "psychopath" are commonly used interchangeably as labels for people with ASPD, neither are official clinical terms found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the clinical handbook used by healthcare providers to diagnose mental health conditions.

In other words, a person can't be clinically diagnosed as a "sociopath" or "psychopath," but there are psychopathic tendencies and behaviors. Additionally, about one-third of people diagnosed with ASPD meet the criteria for psychopathy.

Here's more about the personality disorder and what it entails.

Diagnosing ASPD

Approximately 2% to 4% of men and 0.5% to 1% of women have ASPD. The prevalence of ASPD peaks between the ages of 24 to 44.

ASPD "is characterized by a pattern of socially irresponsible, exploitive, and guiltless behavior." People with ASPD also tend to have co-occurring and addictive disorders, including major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, somatic symptom disorders, substance use disorders, gambling disorder, and sexual disorders.

The onset of ASPD begins early in childhood, with antisocial behaviors beginning by the age of 8. An adult diagnosis of ASPD usually requires a diagnosis of conduct disorder (CD) in childhood. Approximately 25% of girls and 40% of boys diagnosed with CD in childhood will go on to have ASPD as adults.

There is a small percentage of people with ASPD who do not have a history of a CD diagnosis. These people tend to have milder cases of ASPD, suggesting that the disorder is on a spectrum.

Causes of ASPD

What causes someone to have ASPD is unclear, although there seems to be a genetic component. Additionally, environmental factors that have been associated with a person developing ASPD include:

  • Experiences of child abuse or neglect
  • Mental health disorders diagnosed in childhood (e.g., CD, ADHD)
  • Having a parent with ASPD or who uses excessive alcohol

Signs of ASPD

The general rule is that people with ASPD exhibit the following traits:

  • Are able to act witty and charming
  • Are good at flattery and manipulating other people's emotions
  • Repeatedly break the law
  • Disregard the safety of self and others
  • Have problems with substance abuse
  • Lie, steal, and fight often
  • Do not show guilt or remorse
  • Are often angry or arrogant

Other typical traits of someone with ASPD include irresponsible actions, like defaulting on financial and work responsibilities. They may not stick with a job for too long either, said Stephen Salzbrenner, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine in Omaha.

In general, people with ASPD are rule breakers, often breaking the law. As many as 80% of people in correctional facilities have ASPD.

People with ASPD often lie—whether about something as significant as their identity or as seemingly trivial as where they spent the afternoon. It's a "pattern of calculated lying," said Dr. Salzbrenner. They also tend to exaggerate to make themselves look better and to deflect blame onto others.

While the lies may be calculated, people with ASPD also tend to be impulsive, not calculating long-term consequences. "They really don't have a very identifiable picture of what lies down the road if they do something wrong but are [instead] very responsive to immediate reward," said Dr. Salzbrenner.

And because people with ASPD tend to be charming and witty, they may not get caught, or they may avoid facing punishment if they are caught. In addition, people with ASPD tend to exhibit aggressive behavior, show no remorse, and be impulsive.

Still, as a person with ASPD gets older, their symptoms usually hit a peak as well. This peak occurs between an individual's late teens to early 20s. Sometimes, symptoms improve on their own as the person enters their 40s.

Treatment for People With ASPD

Certain types of psychotherapy and having self-care and coping strategies in place may help individuals who have been diagnosed with ASPD. While there are no medications that specifically treat this personality disorder, medications may be used to help lessen the symptoms of ASPD or co-occurring conditions, such as depression.

Additionally, treatment for ASPD is more effective for those with stronger family and relationship ties (including being married). However, it's possible that the person with ASPD may not want to engage with a therapist or seek help.

Loved ones of those with ASPD may find that a mental health professional can help them navigate the relationship with the person who has ASPD and learn to set boundaries to support their own mental health and safety.

A Quick Review

ASPD is a personality disorder that can cause people to act without consideration for how their behavior affects others and any long-term consequences. They may be impulsive and aggressive and break rules or laws without taking responsibility for their actions.

Mental health professionals can recommend individualized treatment plans for those with ASPD—or some traits of it—and their loved ones. Treatments may include psychotherapy, self-care, coping strategies, and medications.

Was this page helpful?
6 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Psychiatric Association. What are personality disorders?

  2. Abdalla-Filho E, Völlm B. Does every psychopath have an antisocial personality disorder? Braz J Psychiatry. 2020;42(3):241-242. doi:10.1590/1516-4446-2019-0762

  3. Black DW. The natural history of antisocial personality disorder. Can J Psychiatry. 2015;60(7):309-314. doi:10.1177/070674371506000703

  4. Fisher KA, Hany M. Antisocial Personality Disorder. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  5. MedlinePlus. Antisocial personality disorder.

  6. MentalHealth.gov. Antisocial personality disorder. US Department of Health and Human Services.

Related Articles