Anxiety disorders among offenders with antisocial personality disorders: A distinct subtype?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • University of London
  • King's College London
  • Institut Philippe-Pinel de Montréal
  • Université de Québec À Trois-Riviéres


Objectives: About 50% of men with antisocial personality disorder (APD) present a comorbid anxiety disorder. Historically, it was thought that anxiety limited criminal activity and the development of APD, but recent evidence suggests that heightened responsiveness to threat may lead to persistent violent behaviour. Our study aimed to determine the prevalence of APD comorbid with anxiety disorders among offenders and the association of these comorbid disorders with violent offending. Method: A random sample of 495 male penitentiary inmates completed an interview using the Diagnostic Interview Schedule. After excluding men with psychotic disorders, 279 with APD were retained. All authorized access to their criminal records. Results: Two-thirds of the prisoners with APD presented a lifetime anxiety disorder. Among them, one-half had the onset of their anxiety disorder before they were aged 16 years. Among the offenders with APD, those with, compared with those without, anxiety disorders presented significantly more symptoms of APD, were more likely to have begun their criminal careers before they were aged 15 years, to have diagnoses of alcohol and (or) drug abuse and (or) dependence, and to have experienced suicidal ideas and attempts. While there were no differences in the mean number of convictions for violent offences between APD prisoners with and without anxiety disorders, more of those with anxiety disorders had been convicted of serious crimes involving interpersonal violence. Conclusions: Among men with APD, a substantial subgroup present life-long anxiety disorders. This pattern of comorbidity may reflect a distinct mechanism underlying violent behaviour and signalling the need for specific treatments.

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)784-791
Number of pages8
JournalThe Canadian Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2010