Improving substance use prevention efforts with executive function training

Mary Ann Pentz*, Nathaniel R. Riggs, Christopher M. Warren

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Background Executive function (EF) includes emotional regulation, planning and decision-making, and behavioral impulse control. Improving youth substance use (SU) prevention by targeting EF poses challenges including determining whether specific sub-domains of EF are more associated with SU than others, whether EF is related to some types of SU more than others, and whether EF programs might be enhanced by inclusion of mindfulness training. Methods Data were drawn from two studies from the Pathways to Health project: a randomized controlled trial of 4th–6th graders and a cross-sectional pilot study of the relationship of EF to specific types of SU in a sample of 7th graders. Survey measures included assessment of the EF subdomains of inhibitory control (IC), emotional control, working memory, organization/planning, lifetime SU (tobacco and alcohol use), and mindfulness. Analyses included multivariate and multiple group path analysis. Results Results suggested that the EF sub-domain of IC was the strongest and most consistent predictor of SU, particularly cigarette and e-cigarette use, though emotional control was predictive of alcohol use among late-elementary school students. In the 7th grade sample, IC was predictive of alcohol, cigarette, and e-cigarette use only among students in the low 75% of mindfulness. Conclusions Findings from the present studies suggest that improvements in SU prevention efforts may result from increased curricular emphasis on IC and its application to multiple substance use prevention, and systematically integrating mindfulness with EF skills training. Future research should examine whether EF–SU relationships vary across patterns of SU and types of measures used to assess EF.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S54-S59
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescent
  • Drug abuse prevention
  • Emotional regulation
  • Executive function
  • Impulse control
  • Inhibitory control
  • Mindfulness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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