The role of executive function in the relation between ADHD symptoms and substance use

First published: 10 May 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019

Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) use higher amount of substance compared to their healthy peers. van Emmerik-van Oortmerssen and his colleagues (2011) have demonstrated in their study that an estimated 23.3% to 31% of adults with ADHD meet the criteria for Substance Use Disorder (SUD) which is three times greater than general population (Kessler et al., 2006) and is one of the most problematic co-occurring disorders with ADHD (Wilens & Morrison 2012, Nehlin, Nyberg & öster, 2014). While many adults with ADHD have difficulties with substance use, most previous studies have excludes such participants from their studies. Thus, a lot of frameworks which are being developed only apply to adults with ADHD without substance use problems. The result is that the attempt to help those with substance use difficulties is compromised by the incomplete research. Impaired Executive Function (EF) is common to both people with ADHD and substance users. Executive function is an umbrella word for a series of cognitive processes of the brain. The current study is an attempt to find the relationship among ADHD, substance use rates (alcohol, cannabis and nicotine) and executive function in a group of adults. 85 undergraduate student have been tested by alcohol, cannabis and nicotine use questionnaires, ADHD self-report scale and Jansari assessment of Executive Function (JEF©). While the traditional assessment of cognitive performance tasks lack ecological validity and sensitivity, Jansari et al (2014) have developed a virtual reality assessment which can examines eight aspects of executive functions concurrently: Planning, Prioritization, Selection, Creative thinking, Adaptive thinking, Action based prospective memory, Event based prospective memory and Time based prospective memory. Results show that ADHD increases the risk of alcohol use problems and frequency. It also predicted cannabis use frequency and nicotine use in a significant way. Some facets of EF could predict substance use in people with higher ADHD symptoms. The results of this study help us to have a better understanding of adults with ADHD symptoms and their treatment.


Dr. Ashok Jansari, Lecturer in Cognitive Neuropsychology Dr. Andrew Cooper, Senior Lecturer in Psychology Dr. Alice Jones Bartoli, Senior Lecturer in Psychology

Conflicts of interest:

no conflict of interest

Miss Zahra Safaryazdi