Behavioral Problems

Almost everybody has had a fleeting moment of doing something that’s really stupid and dangerous, bringing everybody down with negative talk, being cranky and irritable, doing something manipulative, saying something inappropriate, bragging about your accomplishments, or even being disrespectful to others. That’s normal. But when this type of conduct becomes a long-lasting pattern with negative impacts on your life, that’s when it’s considered a behavioral problem.

Are you or someone you love struggling with any of the following on a regular basis?

  • Aggression or anger
  • Impulsive tendencies
  • Compulsive tendencies
  • Negativity
  • Nervousness
  • Manipulative tendencies
  • Disruptive or inappropriate behavior


Many people think behavioral problems relate only to children, but when left untreated, these issues can continue and even worsen in adulthood. It’s important to understand that problems with aggression, anger, compulsiveness, defiance, negativity, nervousness, or impulsivity can also develop at any time of life—childhood, college, mid-life, or even well into retirement age. Be aware that any change in behavior or worsening of a behavior issue is worth investigating.


Behavioral problems encompass a wide range of issues. Because of this, there are many signs and symptoms associated with problem behaviors, such as:

  • Frequently angry
  • Argumentative
  • Being uncooperative
  • Getting mad when things don’t go your way
  • Disruptive talking
  • Nervousness
  • Emotional withdrawal
  • Inappropriate actions
  • Talking back
  • Learning difficulties
  • Risk-taking actions
  • Hoarding
  • Obsessive thoughts or actions
  • Lack of judgment
  • Self-harm

All of these symptoms can range from mild to severe.


Having any type of behavior issue has both short-term and long-term negative effects and can get in the way living your best life regardless of your age. Problem behaviors can keep you from performing your best in school or at work and can cause strains in your personal life. They can also lead to other self-destructive behaviors. People who don’t seek help or who don’t get the right treatment are more likely to:

  • Do poorly in school
  • Drop out of school
  • Have to repeat a grade in school
  • Get suspended or expelled from school
  • Have trouble landing and keeping a job
  • Underachieve at work
  • Have trouble maintaining relationships
  • Get divorced
  • Have family dysfunction
  • Become obese
  • Abuse drugs or alcohol
  • Go to jail
  • Develop Alzheimer’s disease

All of these consequences create even more stress, which can compound your troubles and lead to more severe behavioral problems as well as emotional issues. And it isn’t just the person with the symptoms who suffers—it’s the whole family, as well as friends, colleagues, and classmates. That’s why it’s critical to seek help.


It’s important to know that having behavioral problems is not a character flaw or a sign of weakness. Brain scans reveal that they are, in fact, an indicator of problems with brain activity. At Amen Clinics, we use a brain imaging technology called SPECT that measures blood flow and activity in the brain. It shows three things about the brain:

  • Areas with healthy activity levels
  • Areas with too much activity
  • Areas with too little activity

Behavioral problems are often related to having too much or too little activity in certain areas of the brain. For example, brain SPECT imaging studies show that:

  • Impulsivity issues are often associated with low activity in the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain involved with focus, forethought, judgment, organization, planning, impulse control, empathy, and learning from mistakes)
  • Compulsive tendencies are usually due to high activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus (a structure involved with error detection and shifting attention)
  • Irritability and memory issues are typically linked to abnormal activity in the temporal lobes (an area involved in mood stability, emotional reactions, temper control, learning, moving memories into long-term storage, and auditory processing)
  • Negativity is often associated with an overactive limbic system (the part of the brain that colors our emotions and is involved with emotions, bonding, nesting, feeding, and sexuality)
  • Nervousness is generally due to increased activity in the basal ganglia (a region involved with motivation, pleasure, and smoothing motor movements)


Unfortunately, psychiatry remains the only medical specialty that rarely looks at the organ it treats. Diagnosis is typically based on symptom clusters, which can often lead to misdiagnosis. Without an accurate diagnosis, treatment usually consists of throwing darts in the dark. Healthcare professionals are quick to prescribe medications that may work for some people but can make other people worse!

It is not uncommon for it to take weeks, months, or even years for a child or adult to get an accurate diagnosis and the proper treatment. This amounts to a lot of needless suffering. We can do better.


At Amen Clinics, we have the world’s largest database of functional brain scans, and our research has shown that behavioral problems aren’t just one thing. In fact, there are multiple types of behavioral disorders. Giving everyone with impulsivity or everyone who struggles with negativity the same treatment will never work. Knowing which type of brain pattern you have is essential to getting the right diagnosis and the most effective treatment.


At Amen Clinics, we use brain SPECT imaging as part of a comprehensive evaluation to diagnose and treat our patients. Brain scans help us better understand how your brain works and can specifically help children and adults with behavioral problems by:

  • Helping identify the type of brain activity pattern to inform treatment decisions
  • Monitoring how well treatment is working so adjustments can be made for faster healing
  • Finding out if there are other co-occurring conditions or underlying issues (such as a traumatic brain injury) that also need treatment
  • Reducing emotional pain and stigma by demonstrating that symptoms and behaviors are not a personal failure
  • Increasing treatment compliance by showing images of your progress
  • Helping families gain a better understanding of their loved one’s condition

At Amen Clinics, we also assess other factors—biological, psychological, social, and spiritual—that can contribute to behavior problems and offer the least toxic, most effective treatments and strategies to optimize these areas of your life.

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