What is sociopathy? Symptoms, traits, and treatments

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox
Updated January 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Please note:The information found in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have.

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Antisocial personality disorder is treatable

The term “sociopath” is often used to describe an individual living with an antisocial personality disorder. A person with antisocial personality disorder often shows little remorse or guilt, lacks or has diminished empathy, and may not understand the difference between right and wrong. They may lie, cheat, manipulate, and steal and simply not care about the effects or consequences. They may also use gaslighting and other manipulation techniques.

Antisocial personality disorder is a serious mental health condition that affects approximately one to four percent of the general population in America. The condition is more commonly diagnosed in men than in women.

Characteristics and traits of antisocial personality disorder

There is no medical test to diagnose an individual with antisocial personality disorder. However, the traits of an individual with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) can be identified in teens as young as 15. These traits often progress and further develop as one reaches adulthood. 

Specific symptoms or traits of antisocial personality disorder may vary from individual to individual. While some might only exhibit a few symptoms, others may meet all the criteria. 

Lack of empathy or remorse

Those living with antisocial personality disorder may have trouble understanding other people's feelings, and they often display a notable lack of empathy. They may be unable to connect with others on an emotional level. They might feel indifferent to people’s feelings and may likely even validate or rationalize their ill behavior towards others.

Failure to conform to social norms

An individual living with ASPD may find it difficult to conform to social norms such as following laws and rules, for example.

Extreme deceitfulness

A person with antisocial personality disorder may consistently lie, cheat, and manipulate others. They might pretend to be someone they’re not or deceive others for their own personal benefit or pleasure.

Consistent impulsive behavior

Those living with ASDP exhibit extreme, impulsive behaviors and may have difficulty making and sticking to plans.

Irritability and aggressiveness

Individuals may become easily irritated and regularly get into physical fights or altercations.

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Reckless disregard for safety

A person living with ASDP may consistently get involved in risky behavior that puts their safety or the safety of others at risk.

Consistent irresponsible behaviors

An individual living with antisocial personality disorder may find it difficult to hold down a job or honor prior obligations.

For an individual to be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, they must be at least 18 years old, exhibit three or more of the DSM-5 criteria, have evidence of conduct disorder before the age of 15, and the occurrence of their symptoms must not occur exclusively during schizophrenia or bipolar disorder episodes.

Causes and risks of antisocial personality disorder

While there is no single cause for antisocial personality disorder, there are some factors that may increase an individual’s risk of developing the disorder as an adult:

  • Environmental Factors - An unhealthy family dynamic or childhood experiences such as trauma or abuse* may contribute to an individual developing antisocial personality disorder as an adult.

*If you or someone you know is experiencing or has experienced abuse, it’s important to seek help right away. The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers free support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They can be reached by calling 800.799.SAFE (7233).

  • Genetics –Certain genes are thought to play a role in some individuals being more at risk of developing the disorder than others.

  • Sex –Studies show men are three to five times more likely to develop antisocial personality disorder than women.

  • Lifestyle –Evidence shows that many individuals living with antisocial personality disorder also have an issue with alcohol or substance misuse.

Prevention of antisocial personality disorder

While you may not be able to prevent antisocial personality disorder, early intervention in children who exhibit conduct disorder can lessen the chance of them developing ASPD as adults. Conduct disorder is an umbrella term used to describe repetitive behavioral and emotional issues in younger people. If you believe a child is experiencing conduct disorder, it’s important to seek support from a mental health professional for a diagnosis and treatment. Here are some symptoms to look for:

  • Aggression toward people and animals: They may bully or intimidate others, start physical fights, be cruel to animals, and show no remorse or guilt.

  • Destruction of property: This can include destroying others’ possessions, setting fires, or other destructive behaviors.

  • Deceitfulness, lying, or stealing: They may shoplift or even break into another person’s home or car to steal belongings.

  • Serious violations of rules and laws: The child may run away from home, object to parental rules, or face issues with law enforcement.

With early intervention, conduct disorder is treatable, and treatment may prevent the development of serious issues such as antisocial personality disorder in the future.

Treatment and support for antisocial personality disorder

While there is no fixed cure for antisocial personality disorder, it can be managed through different treatments.

Individuals typically find that some treatments work better for them than others or that a combination of specific treatments is most effective. The course of treatment will ultimately depend on the individual’s circumstances, age, history, and whether they have associated concerns such as substance misuse or other mental health conditions. Common treatments like medication and psychotherapy may be able to help control symptoms of antisocial personality disorder. Here are some common methods used to treat ASPD:

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Antisocial personality disorder is treatable

Talk therapy

Psychotherapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), for example, focuses on behavior changes and skill-building and is used widely with antisocial personality disorder. Due to the common lack of emotional depth in those living with ASPD, psychotherapy goals are usually focused on teaching behaviors that are pro-social. Methods include a combination of behavior therapy, cognitive therapy, and personality reconstruction techniques. Psychotherapy is recommended as the primary treatment for those experiencing symptoms of antisocial personality disorder.

These types of therapies may help an individual talk through their issues and change negative thought patterns and behaviors they may have. Talk therapy is commonly used to treat symptoms like substance misuse, anger management issues, or other related concerns. However, if symptoms are severe, talk therapy may not be as effective and other treatment methods may be needed.

Medication

While there is no medication specifically targeting antisocial personality disorder, a medical professional may prescribe certain medications to help control symptoms such as aggression, anxiety, or depression. If you’re considering medication for the treatment of antisocial personality disorder, it’s important to first seek the advice of a medical professional and get a proper diagnosis before taking any kind of medication.

Seeking treatment for antisocial disorders can be challenging, especially if you’re looking for in-person therapy. Since there’s a societal stigma surrounding this mental health condition, talking to someone about your symptoms could be intimidating. This is where online therapy may be beneficial. An online environment might help you feel more comfortable discussing your experiences. With this type of therapy, you can receive treatment from a compassionate, qualified professional without ever having to leave the house or wherever you have an internet connection and feel safe.

This type of treatment is research-backed, too. Studies show that online therapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy for a variety of mental health conditions. 

Continue reading below for real reviews by individuals experiencing similar issues who have been able to seek support from the therapists at BetterHelp.

Counselor reviews

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Takeaway

If you believe you or a loved one are living with antisocial personality disorder, consider seeking a diagnosis and guidance from a licensed professional. They can provide a treatment plan to help you or your loved one overcome any issues you may be facing associated so you can live a more fulfilling life. BetterHelp is an affordable online therapy platform that can match you with a licensed therapist who best suits your needs. Reach out to begin your journey to a better you. 

Explore antisocial personality disorder in therapy

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