Limited Evidence of Associations Between Executive Functioning and Alcohol Involvement In UK Adolescents

S Burton*, JO-ANNE PUDDEPHATT, L Baines, F Sheen, J Warren, A Jones

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review


Deficits in motor inhibitory control and working memory have been hypothesized to be both a cause and consequence of heavy alcohol use. Adolescence is a critical developmental stage for inhibitory control and working memory, and it is also a stage when individuals are most likely to initiate alcohol use. This study aimed to examine whether inhibitory control and working memory would predict alcohol use and involvement in a group of UK adolescents.

We recruited 220 (N = 178, female) adolescents, aged between 16 and 18, from eight higher education settings in the Merseyside region of the UK. Alcohol use was examined using the Timeline Follow-Back and involvement (and related problems) using the Adolescent Alcohol Involvement Scale. A reward-based inhibitory control task (Go/No-Go) was used to examine the inhibition and reward sensitivity, and a self-ordered pointing task was used to measure working memory.

Multiple regression demonstrated that neither inhibitory control (b = 0.02 (95% confidence interval (CI): −0.21, 0.24)) nor working memory (b = −0.12 (95% CI: −0.30, 0.07)) were significant predictors of alcohol use (units consumed). Inhibitory control (b = 0.61 (95% CI: 0.12, 1.09), specifically, in the no reward condition and school deprivation (b = 0.67 (95% CI: 0.06, 1.28) significantly predicted alcohol-related problems.

Our findings demonstrated limited evidence that deficits in specific mechanisms of executive functioning (i.e. motor inhibition and working memory) were associated with alcohol-related problems in UK adolescents. This study adds to an increasing body of literature suggesting weak or non-existent links between inhibitory control, working memory and alcohol use.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)754-762
JournalAlcohol and Alcoholism
Issue number6
Early online date9 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • ethanol
  • adolescent
  • alcohol drinking
  • memory
  • short-term
  • reward
  • executive functioning


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