What are the Symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Adults?

Elizabeth West

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) in adults might appear as an anger problem. Typical signs are severe negativity, drug and alcohol use, fighting, self-destructive behavior and engaging in criminal acts such as shoplifting. Although oppositional defiant disorder is primarily a diagnosis in children, symptoms can persist past childhood. It can evolve into conduct disorder in adolescence, a more serious condition, or even antisocial personality disorder when the individual reaches maturity. Adults are usually then diagnosed with pervasive, overall personality disorders.

Shoplifting can be one of the indicators that someone is suffering from oppositional defiant disorder.
Shoplifting can be one of the indicators that someone is suffering from oppositional defiant disorder.

Kids can act out for many reasons, perhaps to draw attention to a problem in the family. Children and adolescents change and grow in drastic ways, so behaviors that suggest problems don’t necessarily point to a personality disorder. Many people who have stormy childhoods become more responsible as they grow up. If symptoms have been going on for a long time and continue into adulthood, this suggests that such a disorder might be present.

Progressively worsening drug and alcohol use is one of the signs of oppositional defiant disorder.
Progressively worsening drug and alcohol use is one of the signs of oppositional defiant disorder.

According to psychologists, some adults are difficult by temperament. This does not mean that they have a personality disorder. They can still be reasoned with and do not go against societal norms. Oppositional defiant disorder in adults does not allow for this, nor do antisocial personality or conduct disorders, unless there is a direct benefit for the individual.

Adults with oppositional defiant disorder are more likely to engage in fighting.
Adults with oppositional defiant disorder are more likely to engage in fighting.

Oppositional defiant disorder in adults is not a psychosis, although some behaviors appear to go against common sense. These might include defiance of authority, aggressiveness, lying, being irresponsible about financial obligations and work and a tendency to blame others for one’s problems. As of 2010, for a licensed mental health professional to make a diagnosis of ODD or antisocial personality disorder, it was recommended for the person to have shown five or more of the symptoms over a long period of time. The symptoms would have had to have been severe enough to interfere with the person’s normal functioning.

Severe negativity is a symptom of oppositional defiant disorder.
Severe negativity is a symptom of oppositional defiant disorder.

With prompt treatment, children who have ODD can outgrow their symptoms. Oppositional defiant disorder in adults is more difficult to treat. Adults mired in these behaviors are capable of superficial change, to avoid consequences or losing something important. They can manage their behavior for a short time on their own, but this rarely lasts. Drug and alcohol abuse only worsens symptoms.

Oppositional defiant disorder in adults cannot be cured. Despite this, there are ways for the individual who has ODD to learn better decision-making skills. There also are clinics and programs for anger management — many of them court-mandated after the person gets into trouble. Family members of adults who have this problem often find themselves seeking ways to cope, because the ODD individual can make life very difficult. Online resources, 12-step programs and local mental health organizations can help find support groups for people who are close to someone with a personality disorder.

Someone who appears to have an anger problem might be suffering from oppositional defiant disorder in adults.
Someone who appears to have an anger problem might be suffering from oppositional defiant disorder in adults.

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Discussion Comments


"Oppositional defiant disorder in adults cannot be cured." Of course this is wrong. It should read, "Due to the limitations of our present understanding and methods, oppositional defiant disorder cannot at present be cured." Even that is suspect.


My granddaughter is the poster child for ODD. Too angry to live with her parents so she lived with me as a teenager. Now she has a 6 year old son that I have pretty much raised. She is angry with me right now because I said no to giving her money last week. Says I will never see her son ever again. The violence, drinking, different abusive relationships, drugs, provocative dress, seems like it all fits. It's been 15 years. If it weren't for the child, I would not be sitting here shaking from her last attack.


I came out of a very dysfunctional family. I was the youngest of six children. My childhood was very confusing and frustrating. I've never had a good relationship with my siblings. Father was an alcoholic and very apathetic and my mother worked mostly. Looking back I had all the symptoms of ODD, and I think it carried on into my adult life. (I am now 55). I accept that with all the symptoms of ODD I also have a very generous nature and therefore always get exploited and as a result of that will switch back into the ODD symptoms.

It worsened as I got older and I was mostly in deep emotional despair and started to use drugs recreationally, became more and more anti-social and then started getting severe mood swings and depression. I was admitted by the psychiatrist in a mental clinic for Bi-polar 2 treatment.

I was on the anti-depressants epilim and dopaquel for two years. I don't think I was really better, it's just the amount of drugs that pacified me and I was still smoking and using recreational drugs to get me through social events. I stopped using the anti-depressants and dopaquel and felt more lively and energetic but my emotional turmoil and excessive emotions is still an everyday struggle.

Years of psychological issues stemming from childhood, going untreated, has turned into a myriad of other psychological issues. If I knew what I know today, I would've gone years earlier for treatment. If you have issues, my advice is go and get help before it can develop in other mental health disorders.


I am a 61 year old single parent with one adult child age 37 years old. For most of her life from adolescence to adulthood, she has been oppositional towards me and anyone who does not go along with what she wants.

For the past 15 to 20 years, she has been hell bent on going against anything that I stand for. She swings in and out of negativity at the drop of a dime. Every special occasion: my birthday, Christmas, Mother's Day, my graduation, any time that is joyous for me, she comes for me with disrespect and anger, seemingly to dampen my spirit of the occasion.

I have been nothing but loving and supportive of her and my two grandchildren, but as soon as I deny any of her requests, she comes back with disrespect and negativity.

It is now my birthday and she started in at me a week ago, and has not answered my calls since, which at this point in our life I'd be OK with, except she has my grandchildren and has cut my access to them as well. I will continue to send love her way and pray for her healing and for the safety of my grandchildren.

I am going to seek out a therapist to help me process through the heart pain. I suggest this for anyone who may be experiencing the wrath of this or any negative personality disorder from someone so close to the heart. Take care of yourself because this type of toxic relationship is stressful and can wreak havoc on your health and well being.


Thanks post 10,this gives me hope for my son! There are ways a person can learn to self regulate and be aware. Sufferers of ODD need love and patience. At the same time, family and carers may need support from professionals to mitigate the effects of ODD on themselves, and help with strategies to cope and have more positive, effective relationships. Maybe this would support the person with ODD to integrate and improve in the long run.


I suffer from adult ODD. I was diagnosed as a child, but medication for ADHD was never given. I am just entering my 30's and have been unable to sustain a serious relationship for longer than two or three years because I have difficulty responding to the requests of others.

I have found that in my career I am quickly irritated by others, easily frustrated, and I am very quick to defend myself at all costs. I have, however, been able to be very successful academically and within my career because I am able to see the ODD take over and I do my best to apologize and take responsibility for my actions or words.

I have found that living with ODD as an adult is just like living with any other issues people have in their lives. I do my best to stay accountable for my actions and to manage situations that benefit the way I interact with others. I have found that people don't listen to the tone of my voice, but more so what I am actually trying to say. I'm not sure how other adults with ODD manage their issues. I just know that it is an everyday fight for me and I have to do my best to be cognizant of my words and actions.

We can still be productive members of society. I know that living and dealing with us can be a chore at times -- just know that we see the same from people without the disorder. You can be just as difficult to be around as we can. I guess at the end of the day you just need to make sure that if someone around you does suffer from ODD, you treat them the same as everyone else around you.

I don't think anyone would want to use this as a crutch (I certainly hope not). My advice would be to stay patient and once the ODD has been triggered, back off a bit. Staying in the argument only makes it worse. Typically (speaking for myself) I notice that I have done or said something I regret within moments of saying or doing it, but if the argument continues, I have trouble stopping. If someone walks away, it gives me a few minutes to collect my thoughts and apologize for my actions.

I just wanted to share. I hope this helps someone.


I am struggling with this as a wife. This is unbelievably difficult and feel that individuals like this need love too. He is on medication for ADHD, but while he can focus better his ability to have viable relationship is difficult. I am hopeful that things can work out for us.


My spouse is in his 50's and shows almost all the signs of this disorder. He will lie, ruin finances, drink, cause problems at work and blame everyone else instead of himself.

I have become sick emotionally and physically from his abusive ways and am trying to find the strength to walk away. It helps to know that I am not alone in this as I read the other posts, but wow, there is a big problem here.


I am dating someone who may be ODD. He's 47 now. He lies a lot, is very negative and argumentative. How do you work with someone who is older and has this disorder? Any ideas?


I have an ODD sibling. I limit my contact because of the negativity. She tries to provoke an argument every time I see her. I think she has started drinking after our alcoholic mother died. It is ridiculous. She tells me she is often in trouble at work for making mistakes and I wonder if she behaves this way at work. I cannot imagine how she keeps a job. This woman is in her sixties and still expresses anger about some behaviors of mine when I was two.


I had been diagnosed with ODD as a child and I am now almost 29 years old. I have a son who is just turned six who may have some of the same issues. I do not think of myself as being a liar or defiant towards authority, but I do go much against social norms. My toughest hurdle right now is trying to understand why I do things the way I do.

I often am told not to do something and find myself doing it with in 24 hours, even if I am telling myself not to do it. My son has this behavior as well. It is a difficult way to live and is hurtful to many people as well as myself.


@anon300437: I am in the same boat. My son, age 27, is very defiant. In fact, as a teenager, a therapist diagnosed him with oppositional defiant disorder, and I’m telling you, he is still showing signs! I guess they don’t outgrow it.

He has a 4 year old daughter who, for the past two months, we haven’t been able to see legally due to him having a domestic issue with his current girlfriend he is under court ordered anger management classes. He just put them off and put them off until he almost went to jail because he didn’t think he had to follow the judge’s order. Defiance at its best! He lies so much that I’m just to the point of turning my back on him, I don’t know what else I can do. All his issues have taken such a toll on me mentally and physically, I have decided today to seek help and get myself to a therapist.

My advice to you: we did our 100 percent best for our child. We raised them, stood up for them and protected them, and now that they’re adults, they should be able to conduct themselves like adults, even if that means getting themselves into counseling to help themselves instead of venting it all at us! When people used to tell me “tough love,” I thought they were mean, but I’ll tell you now that I see what they meant. We can only do so much and we can only take so much! I wish you peace and good luck. Stay strong and stand your ground.


My daughter has been defiant to me for many years. She is 20 years old now with a three month old baby boy. Her negative attitude and her defiance to me have forced me to ask her to leave. I am struggling internally with this decision. Any advice?

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