Impulsivity and adolescent substance use: rashly dismissed as "all-bad"?

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2008 Oct;32(8):1507-18. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2008.06.003. Epub 2008 Jun 7.


The initial use of illicit drugs and alcohol typically occurs during adolescence. Individual differences in impulsivity and related constructs are consistently identified as key factors in the initiation and later problematic use of substances. Consequently, impulsivity is generally regarded as a negative trait; one that conveys only risk. However, what is often overlooked in addiction science is the positive role facets of trait impulsivity can play in everyday life and adaptive functioning. The following review aims to summarize recent advances in the psychobiology of impulsivity, including current perspectives on how it can convey risk for substance misuse. The review will also consider the importance of adolescence as a phase of life characterized by substantial neurodevelopment and natural increases in impulsivity. Uniquely, the review aims to reframe thinking on adolescent impulsivity to include the positive with the negative, and discuss how such thinking can benefit efforts for early intervention and future research.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / physiopathology*
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology
  • Impulsive Behavior / rehabilitation*
  • Models, Psychological
  • Personality
  • Risk Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / rehabilitation*