Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Adults: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

A psychologist treats a woman with Oppositional Defiant Disorder


Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is a childhood behavioral disorder but it is possible for adults to have ODD too. Adults with ODD lose their temper easily and regularly, usually on a daily basis. Their constant oppositional behavior makes it difficult for them to keep their jobs or maintain relationships and marriages. ODD interferes with their personal and professional lives. They have antagonistic reactions to people in authority. In an attempt to control, they engage in defiance and a negative behavior that is very disrespectful and tends to make the person in authority lose his/her temper.

Children with ODD often outgrow the symptoms of ODD by age 8 or 9. Some of them, however, uphold the symptoms of ODD throughout adulthood. Individuals who experience the symptoms of ODD in adulthood report that they feel angry all the time. 40% of these individuals experience the progressive worsening of their behavior which may result in the development of antisocial personality disorder.

The symptoms of ODD are very common in adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) but are seldom diagnosed. About 45 to 84% of kids who have had the symptoms of ADHD for 2 to 3 years develop ODD.

Causes of Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Adults

There is no definite cause for ODD in adults. ODD may be caused by genetic factors but it is usually caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and social factors. ODD usually begins in childhood with recurrent patterns of defiance or rebellion against their parents, adults, and people in authority with regards to their rules. It particularly affects those kids with ADHD. These kids are constantly at odds with their parents or with other adults who try to make them behave or act in ways that their brains cannot process.

Symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Adults

Children who are diagnosed with ODD may have some symptoms and other mental health conditions that carry into adulthood and require management and treatment. Other people may not be diagnosed with ODD until they have reached adulthood but they generally have had symptoms of ODD from childhood.

The symptoms of ODD in adults are almost the same as the symptoms of ODD in children but the symptoms may be more severe and can cause a lot of difficulties and struggles in adult life.  Adults with ODD are more irritating and aggressive and they exhibit a pattern of defiant, hostile,  and negative behavior that lasts for 6 months or more and includes at least 4 or more of the following symptoms of ODD:

  • Often argues with family members, coworkers, and other authoritative figures
  • Often loses temper
  • Actively refuses or resists to comply with laws, rules, and regulations
  • Resentful and angry all the time
  • Vindictive or spiteful
  • Blames others for his/her errors or mistakes and misbehaviors
  • Deliberately annoys people
  • Easily annoyed by other people

Adults with ODD always feel mad at the world and they feel so angry all the time which can be manifested as road rage or verbal abuse. They argue regularly with the members of the family and also with coworkers. They defend themselves relentlessly when other people say that they have done something wrong. They feel disliked and misunderstood, pushed around and confined. Some of them feel like rebels or mavericks. They are impatient, get so mad easily, and have a low tolerance for frustration.

Symptoms at Home

The following are common manifestations of ODD that may be noticeable at home:

  • Feels the need to always win the argument with a parent, spouse, or other adults living in the same house
  • Continues to fight with authoritative figures
  • Deliberately leaves clothes or socks on the floor because he/she knows that it will annoy his/her roommate or spouse
  • Has a hair-trigger temper which means that little things can set him/her off
  • Involved in bar brawls, road rage, or physical altercations in public
  • Cited for disorderly conduct or misbehavior by police

Symptoms at Work

The following manifestations of ODD or anything similar to these may be evident at work:

  • In constant argument with his/her boss and coworkers
  • Purposely engaging in annoying behaviors that irritate or annoy coworkers
  • Doesn’t take constructive criticism lightly and may even have meltdowns during annual reviews or meetings after receiving them
  • Feeling oppressed by rules and regulations in the office
  • Sanctioned by human resources for violating company policies
  • Fired for pushing coworkers into heated arguments

Management and Treatment of Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Adults

Medication and psychotherapy are both effective treatments for controlling the symptoms of ODD. Stimulants that are used to treat ADHD can also improve the symptoms brought about by ODD. Some adults with ODD may need a second medication aside from the stimulants in order to manage their ODD.

There are a couple of anger-management courses that are offered by mental health professionals at community colleges or at health clinics. Enrolling in these courses may help in managing the symptoms of ODD.

Family counseling is also recommended to emphasize the strategies that the family can use in order to cope with the defiant behaviors.