Executive function includes decision-making, sustaining attention, planning ahead and other skills teens are in the process of developing "and will really need as adults," said Thoma.
The study-group teens reported spending 30 percent of the 90 days surveyed drinking heavily. Those who used marijuana recalled spending 40 percent of that time period smoking marijuana.
"You can imagine how that may affect kids, how important attention and executive function are to developmental tasks," said Thoma. "Kids have to organize themselves, they have to get up early and get to school and sustain their attention to learn some very complicated things."
But Ramani Durvasula said the study might be "comparing apples to oranges" because "kids who abuse drugs and alcohol are different from those who don't," and may have other problems their peers do not.
"When talking about executive function -- control of inhibitions, planning ahead, behavior control -- if these things are already compromised in a child or adolescent, they're going to be more likely to do things like drink," said Durvasula, assistant professor of psychology at the School of Natural and Social Sciences of California State University, Los Angeles.
Noting the large amount of drinking reported by the teens she cited possible problems in their homes.
"Let's face it, when kids are drinking 13 drinks a day (the study average), there's not a lot of parental supervision going on," said Durvasula.
Thoma acknowledged that the data might suggest that kids who had poor executive function were more inclined to drink heavily.
"You have the chicken and the egg problem," said Thoma. "Which came first, the low executive function, which could lead to drinking more, or the heavy drinking, which le
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