Substances, impulsivity and cognition


Examination of risk factors and consequences of substance use in youth


The present study aims to identify risk factors for and consequences of excessive use of alcohol and cannabis among youth. Our primary foci are cognitive abilities such as learning and memory, behavioural factors such as impulsivity, and neural functions such as communication between different brain regions. Assessing these factors provides valuable information useful for:

  • Early identification of youth at risk for developing problematic substance use
  • Identification of potential consequences of excessive use of alcohol or cannabis.

This knowledge is essential for both prevention and treatment.


Problematic substance use is associated with serious medical, psychological, and social consequences along with marked societal and financial costs. Danish youth, in comparison with youth in other European countries consume the most alcohol and the Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research has estimated that approximately 17,000 young Danes (aged 15-25) use cannabis almost daily. Thus, it is necessary to gain knowledge about the impact of excessive use of alcohol and cannabis on cognition, behaviour, and brain functions in youth as well as knowledge about what factors may increase the risk of excessive use.

The study

The present study is a longitudinal study in which we examine the same group of young people several times over a lengthy period of time. More than 100 young Danes between the ages of 15 to 26, who display varying patterns of substance use and varying risk of developing problematic use over time have participated in the study. The study includes face-to-face cognitive testing of e.g. learning and memory, computer-based cognitive testing of e.g. impulsivity, a survey of e.g. substance use, and MR brain scans. The study started in 2015 where 109 young people completed the comprehensive test battery including brain scans and cognitive examination. In the fall 2016, 100 (92%) completed an online survey-based follow-up assessment.


The project received external financial support from the Aarhus University Research Foundation (AUFF): Assistant Professor Starting Grant.


The study is a collaboration between Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research, Aarhus University,

Post doc Mads Jensen, Centre for Functionally Integrative Neuroscience, Aarhus University and

Associate Professor Valerie Voon, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, England.