Executive functioning and substance use in adolescence: Neurobiological and behavioral perspectives

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The current review is guided by the theoretical perspective that emphasizes the regulating role of executive functioning (Carver et al., 2009) and presents studies that elucidate the ways that executive functioning (inhibition and working memory) explain individual differences in adolescent substance use independently or by regulating the reactive system (reward and punishment sensitivity). Behavioral studies indicate that main effects of executive functioning on adolescent substance use are often nonsignificant or weak in effect sizes. In contrast, emerging evidence suggests consistent and stronger regulating effects of executive functioning over reward and punishment sensitivity. Functional neuroimaging studies reveal significant associations between executive functioning task-related hemodynamic responses and substance use with strong effect sizes. There is also direct evidence from studies testing statistical interactions of the regulating effects of EF-related brain activation, and indirect evidence in studies examining functional connectivity, temporal discounting, and reinforced control. We note key future directions and ways to address limitations in existing work.HighlightsExtant literature suggests a regulatory system represented by executive functioning (EF).Main effects of EF on adolescent substance use are weak in behavioral research.The reward/punishment sensitivity and EF interaction predicts substance use.Research should consider regulating effects of EF at neural and behavioral levels.

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