Is Oppositional Defiant Disorder a Real Medical Condition?

November 12, 2012

Is Oppositional Defiant Disorder a Real Medical Condition?

Many people, especially Americans, doubt that there is such a mental health condition as oppositional defiant disorder. When the “Bible” of mental illnesses, the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual” (DSM) put out its third edition in 1980, many mental conditions were introduced to the general public. During the next two editions in 1987 and 1992, many more mental conditions for children were added. This was a lot of information for the medical profession to absorb – not to mention how hard it was for the general public.

Coupled with the sudden influx of new information was the rise of new drugs to help treat these ailments. By 1995, television advertisements for prescription medications were allowed to be aired in the United States. Some of these advertisements were for psychiatric drugs. The nation that fostered many conspiracy theories began to become suspicious of any new mental health diagnosis, especially for children, thinking that this was a conspiracy to sell drugs that people didn’t really need.

A Real Condition

Sadly, oppositional defiant disorder is a real medical condition that can appear in people of all ages, but is seen mostly in children and teenagers. The diagnostic criteria set out in the DSM-IV are slightly different than from the World Health Organization (WHO.) This has put fuel on the fire of conspiracy theorists. It is unclear whether the diagnosis will change for the DSM-V, due out in 2013.

An estimated 10% of Americans are thought to suffer from oppositional defiant disorder. Although some people do not like their children to be labeled or told that they have a mental health problem, getting that diagnosis can help speed up the process of getting treatment. This is a treatable condition, but treatment is centered mostly on cognitive behavior therapy rather than relying on medications to alleviate all symptoms.

Differences From Normal Tantrums and Moodiness

All children can throw tantrums or become moody for no apparent reason. But is this oppositional defiant disorder? No. Normally, children have tantrums or spells of moodiness while they are growing up, but these are brief and do not last for months. They should not happen most of the time and should not interfere with school or college.

Other symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder must last for at least six months. They include:

  • Always placing the blame on others
  • Deliberately breaking rules
  • Goes out of his or her way to annoy or argue with authority figures like parents, teachers or police
  • Spends an excessive amount of time plotting revenge
  • Throws tantrums for seemingly no reason.

Similarities to Other Mental Health Problems

The symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder are very similar to other types of mental conditions such as bipolar disorder, major depression, Asperger syndrome, Tourette’s syndrome or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (better known as ADHD.) But there are some key differences, although it may take time to identify these differences. It is very rare for a child with oppositional defiant disorder to:

  • Steal
  • Harm other people
  • Harm pets or other animals
  • Destroy other people’s possessions.


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