Soldiers and Antisocial Personality Disorder

Antisocial personality disorder (APD) is a very serious, even dangerous, psychological disease that can be extremely hard to identify in a soldier. While military life often weeds out most mental illnesses, the unique characteristics of this particular condition can slip through the proverbial cracks.

In 2006 U.S. Army PFC Steven D. Green and a group of fellow soldiers gang-rappped and murrrdered a fourteen-year-old Iraqi girl named Abeer Qasim Hamza and also killed several members of her family. Green was discharged from the army on the grounds that he suffered from antisocial personality disorder before his crimes were discovered.

What Is Antisocial Personality Disorder?

Antisocial personality disorder is a very specific mental illness that often goes undiagnosed due to its unique characteristics. While it is common to hear someone who is shy or who tends to be a loner described as being antisocial, that is not an accurate use of the term.

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), it is characterized by “a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood.”Individuals with APD also have an “impoverished moral sense or conscience” and may have a record of criminal behavior, legal problems and aggressive or impulsive tendencies.

Specifically APD is characterized by at least three of the following symptoms:

  • Complete disregard for the feelings or rights of others
  • Disregard for social norms, rules and duties
  • Inability to maintain long-term relationships
  • Low tolerance for frustration
  • Inclination to emotional outbursts or aggression
  • Incapacity to experience feelings of guilt or to benefit from discipline
  • Tendency to blame others or otherwise rationalize harmful behaviors
  • Irritability
  • Deceptive words or behavior

While most individuals with APD show signs of conduct disorder before the age of 15, a diagnosis of APD only applies to people who are 18 or older. These individuals tend to also experience other psychological disorders that may include depression, anxiety disorders, impulse-control disorder, ADHD, narcissism and substance abuse.

Antisocial Personality Disorder and Military Culture

The intense experience of boot camp is partially designed to weed out soldiers with underlying psychological problems, but those suffering from antisocial personality disorder may actually thrive in the aggressive environment of military culture.

While their lack of concern for rules and regulations will often cause them problems in the long run, many APD soldiers are able to hide their tendencies, manipulate others and mask their violent, narcissistic and even sadistic urges as part of military life. The Steven D. Green case has certainly alerted military mental health personnel to the risk of APD in their ranks, but diagnosis remains a challenge.

Mental Health and Addiction Help

Antisocial personality disorder is not a condition that takes care of itself. Sufferers don’t eventually get better without focused and specially designed treatment. As the condition worsens, so does the risk of life-altering behavior, increased mental illness and addiction.