A sociopath is a person affected by personality disorders and who exhibits antisocial, impulsive and guiltless behavior. How to recognize it and how to react? What’s the difference with a psychopath? Update on symptoms, risk factors and treatments with Dr Aïda Cancel, psychiatrist and doctor of neuroscience.
The sociopathy is a personality disorder, that is, it is a set of disorders whose symptoms are stable and permanent personality traits. This rigid and “ill-adapted” character induces dysfunctional behaviors in life in society as well as suffering for the person. The personality is not fixed until after adolescence: thus, sociopathy cannot be diagnosed until adulthood, although conduct disorders can appear long before.
“Today, we mainly talk about antisocial personality“explains Dr. Aïda Cancel, psychiatrist and doctor of neuroscience. “Depending on the period and the country, we rather said “sociopath”, “psychopath” or “antisocial”. In psychiatry, today, no distinction is made and we speak of an “antisocial” personality. This corresponds to the same clinical description.” she continues.
Very often, the person’s life course is marked by contacts with the police and the justice system.
Impulsivity with acting out even if the consequences are obviously negative, which is frequent in people with antisocial personality disorder. “There is an impulse control disorder, which leads to acting out without assessment of the consequences“, notes Dr. Cancel. She takes as an example prisoners who will commit an act of violence against a guard 15 days before their release, which will, of course, compromise the latter.
Very often, there are transgressions at the social level, and the person’s life course is marked by contacts with the police and the justice system for theft, assault, destruction of public property, instability in relationships or in the course professional…
“Even if the antisocial personality disorder can only be diagnosed in adulthood, we find from childhood or adolescence signs that we will call “conduct disorders”.“says Dr. Cancel
This personality disorder affects almost 5.8% of men and 1.2% of women. It is marked by:
- a tendency to take action,
- an absence of guilt,
- difficulty conforming to social norms,
“There are genetic vulnerability factors and more or less stressful life events” explains Dr. Cancel. “We find social factors, trauma, consumption of toxic substances…” she adds. Socio-economic difficulties, violence or the consumption of toxic substances are very often part of the patient’s history. The consumption of alcohol or drugs increases the acting out.
Children with conduct disorders are obviously more at risk than others, hence the importance of teaching them empathy and non-violence. “If there are conduct disorders, it is because you have to look for difficult things in the child’s environment, explains Dr. Cancel. It will therefore be necessary to carry out prevention:
- take more care of the child if he tends to be left alone,
- fight against domestic violence,
- promote empathy, cooperation, mutual aid…
- And very often prevention involves helping parents!“Contrary to some popular belief, there is no such thing as an antisocial personality gene.
It is advisable not to tolerate the crossing of certain limits and also to be wary of a tendency manipulation.
“The problem in this type of disorder is thatthere is no mentalization between the impulse and the passage to the act. During moments of anger and internal tension, it would be appropriate for the loved ones to let things calm down, to take a little distance, to leave the person alone until it calms down and to discuss afterwards.” advises Dr. Cancel. While being aware of his difficulties, it is advisable not to tolerate the crossing of certain limits and also to be wary of a tendency to manipulation. It is also necessary, of course, to bring the person to consult in order to that it can be adequately cared for.
The basis of treatment is psychotherapy, especially behavioral and cognitive therapies (CCT). Drug treatments can help if the sociopathy is strong: the psychiatrist can prescribe mood stabilizers or antipsychotics. There will also be treatments to treat the consequences of the disorder: addictions that require appropriate care, depression or associated bipolar disorder. “At the drug level, comorbidities and impulsivity are treated more if it is really disabling than the disorder itselffor which there is no medicine“explains Dr. Cancel.
Thanks to Dr. Aïda Cancel, psychiatrist and doctor in neuroscience.