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Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development℠ Study (ABCD Study®)

What is the ABCD Study?

The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development StudySM (ABCD Study®) is a longitudinal study of nearly 12,000 youth conducted at 21 research sites across the country. This landmark study explores the environmental, social, genetic, and biological factors that affect brain and cognitive development, behavior, and health. The study aims to identify the foundational aspects of adolescence that shape a person’s future.

Why is the ABCD Study a priority for NIMH?

Early adolescence is a period of dramatic brain development when youth are exposed to many different experiences. Yet, researchers have an incomplete understanding of how these experiences interact with each other and an adolescent’s changing biology to impact outcomes, such as academic achievement, cognitive skills, mental health, and brain structure and function.

As the largest long-term study of its kind in the United States, the ABCD Study:

  • Follows almost 12,000 healthy youth across the United States from the ages of 9 and 10 through early adulthood
  • Uses advanced brain imaging to observe brain growth with unprecedented precision
  • Examines how certain traits and childhood experiences interact with each other and with a child’s changing biology to affect brain development and social, behavioral, academic, health, and other outcomes. These include:
    • Screen time activities
    • Sleep patterns
    • Body mass index
    • Engagement in sports, arts, or other activities
    • Family conflict and social support
    • Exposure to substances, including nicotine, alcohol, and marijuana

The size and scope of the study will allow researchers to:

  • Identify individual developmental trajectories (for example, brain, cognitive, emotional, academic) and the factors that can affect them
  • Understand the role of genetic versus environmental factors on development
  • Examine the effects of physical activity, screen time, and sleep, as well as sports and injuries, on brain development and other outcomes
  • Study the onset and progression of mental disorders
  • Determine how exposure to substances, including alcohol, marijuana, nicotine, and caffeine, and ways of taking them, such as vaping or dabbing, affect developmental outcomes and vice versa
  • Understand the impact of changing state and local policies and laws on the use of substances, such as marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol, and how they impact youth substance use and related health and development
  • Understand how changing environmental contexts, including laws and biases (e.g., race, gender, ethnicity), neighborhood quality, air pollution, and school context impact adolescent development

The results of the ABCD Study will provide families, school administrators and teachers, health care providers, and policymakers with practical information to promote youth’s health, well-being, and success.

What is NIMH’s role?

The ABCD Study is led by the Collaborative Research on Addiction at the National Institutes of Health, which includes the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the National Cancer Institute. NIMH is a federal partner organization.

ABCD Federal Partners

  • National Institute of Mental Health
  • Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
  • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
  • National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities
  • NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research
  • NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • National Institute of Justice
  • National Science Foundation
  • National Endowment for the Arts

Contact information

For additional information on the ABCD Study, please contact ABCD Project Director Dr. Gaya Dowling at 301-443-4877 or

Learn more about the ABCD Study

Additional resources

Science news and research highlights

Last Reviewed: October 2022