People often make jokes about someone being “antisocial,” but they often mean someone who prefers to be alone or is introverted. Genuine antisocial personality disorder (APD) is different. It presents some serious personality traits that can cause quite a bit of havoc in a person’s life, both the person who has an antisocial personality disorder and the people in their circle.
APD can be loosely defined as a person who lacks empathy for others or regard for societal institutions or laws. People with APD have little or no regard for what is considered right or wrong. While often portrayed in the media as being violent individuals, that is not always the case.
Psychopath vs. Sociopath
Psychopathy and sociopathy are personality disorders characterized by antisocial behavior, but there are differences between the two. For example, take two contrasting fictional characters. The character Hannibal Lecter from the movie and TV series is a pure psychopath with antisocial behaviors. He commits murder and manipulates people for his amusement. On the other hand, take a look at Frank from the TV show Shameless. He certainly displays some antisocial personality disorder qualities but is not violent. He just doesn’t care about the consequences of his actions other than what they can get him.
Some would explain the distinction between psychopathy and sociopathy as coldhearted versus hot-headed. A sociopath may have some inkling that what they’re doing is wrong, but they are often driven by emotional responses, whereas the psychopath is much more coldhearted and manipulative. Others would say the distinction between the two lies in the sociopath having a bit of conscience and a lack of violent behavior. Either way, they can certainly make life hard for their inner circle or family.
APD can’t be officially diagnosed until a person reaches 18 years of age, and symptoms must start before the age of 15. Having said that, this is the stereotypical case we often think of where a child or young adolescent tortures animals, but that isn’t always the case.
They likely have problems in school or with the law starting at an early age. Authority means nothing to the person with APD. They frequently lie to everyone and have no remorse for the consequences. They may be aggressive and have abusive relationships with siblings, peers, teachers, and any children they might have later in life.
If you are raised by a psychopath or sociopath, the chances increase sharply that you will display the same behaviors. The jury is still open on whether APD is influenced by genetic or environmental factors. There is a case to be made that normalizing the behavior of someone with antisocial personality disorder can create the same traits in the immediate family.
Differences in the Brain
There’s also a correlation between APD and certain changes in the brain. A study by Erin D. Bigler, Ph.D., on “Frontal Lobe Pathology and Antisocial Personality Disorder” found that people with APD had reduced grey matter in the prefrontal lobe of the brain, which controls judgment and impulsivity. As a result, those with APD may seek more stimulation and excitement in the form of illegal or dangerous activities to fulfill everyday needs. One might describe the needs as requiring some kind of “adrenaline rush” daily.
As you can imagine, getting someone with APD into treatment can be difficult. The best opportunity to get them into treatment is usually after some kind of legal problem where they are incarcerated or committed to an institution. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used, but treatment often takes a lot of time.
Medications may also be used in conjunction with therapy to help treat this disorder. They may include anti-anxiety medications, as well as antidepressants, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizers. Once again, unless the person is in some kind of custody, it can be tough to get them to comply with any type of treatment.
Living With Antisocial Personality Disorder
If someone in your family has APD, you’ve probably learned the hard way how important it is to set boundaries. There is some evidence that those who have strong family support are better able to seek help and succeed in treatment than those without support, but you must keep your boundaries to keep from being caught up in behavior that can often be criminal and destructive. Someone can exhibit some of these traits that are common to psychopaths without being an actual psychopath or fitting the textbook definition but protect yourself at all times. These traits include:
- Charm and charisma
- Narcissism or an inflated sense of self-worth
- The need for excitement and stimulation
- No sense of remorse or regret
- No sense of empathy
- Impulsivity and irresponsibility
- Criminal behavior
An antisocial personality disorder is one of the most difficult mental illnesses to treat. If there is someone in your life with APD, you may need treatment, as well. You may be suffering from anxiety or depression because of their behavior, and you need to learn to set healthy boundaries. If someone has APD, don’t let their charm pull you into their manipulative and possibly criminal schemes. You should never give up hope that they can get better with therapy but be sure to protect yourself first. At Everlast Recovery Centers, we specialize in dealing with mental and emotional issues as well as substance abuse. If you have someone in your life that is disrupting it and displays characteristics of antisocial personality disorder, we can help. Through therapy, you can learn to control the anxiety, depression, and emotional roller coaster of having someone in your life with this disorder. At our Riverside, California facility, we can help you heal through our alternative therapies such as yoga or art therapy in a friendly setting that feels like home. Call us at (866) 338-6925.