Antisocial personality disorder is thought of as an uncommon and untreatable disorder, if it’s thought of at all. Not many researchers study the disorder because little funding is available. Practitioners aren’t particularly interested in working with these individuals either, because they’re difficult and some can be dangerous. Many also believe that studying antisocials is futile, because they’ll never improve.
“A lot of doctors and other mental health professionals just throw up their arms, and say, ‘What’s the point of even identifying antisocial personality disorder? What are we going to do with these people?’” said Donald W. Black, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine in Iowa City.
Dr. Black, also a consultant to the Iowa Department of Corrections, has been studying antisocial personality disorder (or ASP) for over 20 years. You might be more familiar with the term “sociopath, ” which is used more often in the media. “Antisocial” isn’t the best word to describe the disorder, according to Black, because it’s often associated with being shy. “The term arose because the disorder is anti-society. It’s behavior that’s directed against society.”
Black believes it’s vital to study ASP. Not only is ASP costly to our society – economically, socially and emotionally – but you might be surprised to learn that it’s actually quite common. ASP is as common as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
In fact, it might be even more common, because antisocials deny or lie about their symptoms. Black said ASP likely could be traced to “just about any bad thing” in our society, from domestic violence to murder.
Yet, ASP remains highly misunderstood. Below, you’ll learn more about antisocial personality disorder along with its myths and facts.
What Is Antisocial Personality Disorder?
In his new book, Black describes ASP as “a recurrent and serial pattern of misbehavior that involves all significant facets of life and is marked by violation of social norms and regulations that occur over time, ranging from repeated lies and petty theft to violence – and even murder, in the most serious cases.”
The major symptoms seem to strike individuals in their early teens and 20s. This is especially problematic, because this time is critical for completing education, starting a career and establishing a family life, Black said. “Antisocials never catch up with their peers.” (This is where early identification and intervention can help.)
Like other disorders, ASP lies on a continuum of severity, Black said. At one end of the spectrum are serial killers. At the other end are mildly affected individuals who commit bad acts from time to time that influence their and others’ lives, he said.
Also, like other disorders, ASP is a complex combination of genetic, biological and environmental causes. It runs in families. Identical twins are more likely to have the disorder than fraternal twins, he said. “Antisocials often come from very dysfunctional families, suffer childhood abuse, have head injuries as children, and their moms are more likely to smoke during pregnancy.” They’re also more likely to have antisocial friends, which only encourages, validates and reinforces bad behavior, he said.