Do executive function deficits predict later substance use disorders among adolescents and young adults?

Timothy E. Wilens, Marykate Martelon, Ronna Fried, Carter Petty, Clancey Bateman, Joseph Biederman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Objective There is increasing interest regarding the risk and overlap of executive function deficits (EFDs) in stable cigarette smoking and substance use disorders (SUD). Therefore, we examined whether earlier EFD was a risk factor for subsequent cigarette smoking and SUD and further explored the relationship between EFD and SUD. Method We assessed 435 subjects at the 5-year follow-up (232 subjects with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder [ADHD], mean age ± SD: 15.4 ± 3.43 years; and 203 controls: 16.3 ± 3.42 years) and again 4 to 5 years later as part of a prospective family study of youth with ADHD. Individuals were assessed by structured psychiatric interview for psychopathology and SUD. EFD was categorically defined in an individual who had abnormal results on at least two of six neuropsychological tests of executive functioning. Results At the final follow-up period, ADHD was found to be a significant predictor of stable cigarette smoking (p < .01) and SUD into late adolescence and young adult years (p < .01). However, EFDs were not associated with an increase in subsequent substance use outcomes. New-onset stable cigarette smoking, but not SUD, was associated with subsequent EFD (p < .01). Conclusions Our results do not support the hypothesis that EFDs predicts later stable cigarette smoking or SUD in children with ADHD growing up. However, stable cigarette smoking is associated with subsequent EFD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-149
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • ADHD
  • executive function
  • longitudinal follow-up
  • substance-use disorders


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