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Transforming the understanding
and treatment of mental illnesses.

Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development℠ Study (ABCD Study®)


young girl holding brain

The ABCD Study is a longitudinal study of 10,000 children conducted at 21 sites across the country and reflecting the diversity of the U.S. in terms of sex, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and urbanicity. This landmark study, supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will increase our understanding of environmental, social, genetic, and other biological factors that affect brain and cognitive development and that can enhance or disrupt a young person’s life trajectory.

Why Do We Need the ABCD Study?

Adolescence is a period of dramatic brain development in which children are exposed to all sorts of experiences. Yet, our understanding of precisely how these experiences interact with each other and a child’s biology to affect brain development and, ultimately, social, behavioral, health, and other outcomes, is still incomplete. As the only study of its kind, the ABCD Study will yield critical insights into the foundational aspects of adolescence that shape a person’s future.

Research Areas

Unique in its scope and duration, the ABCD Study will:

  • Recruit 10,000 healthy children, ages 9 to 10 across the United States, and follow them into early adulthood.
  • Use advanced brain imaging to observe brain growth with unprecedented precision.
  • Examine how biology and environment interact and relate to developmental outcomes such as physical health, mental health, and life achievements, including academic success.

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

  • Identify individual developmental trajectories (e.g., brain, cognitive, emotional, and academic) and the factors that can affect them.
  • Understand the role of genetic vs. environmental factors on development.
  • Examine the effects of physical activity, screen time, and sleep, as well as sports and other injuries, on brain development and other outcomes.
  • Study the onset and progression of mental disorders.
  • Determine how exposure to substances (e.g., alcohol, marijuana, nicotine, caffeine) and new ways of taking them (e.g., vaping, dabbing) affect developmental outcomes and vice versa.
  • Understand the impact of changing state and local policies and laws (e.g., marijuana, tobacco, alcohol) on youth drug use and related health and development.

Study Leads

The ABCD Study is led by the Collaborative Research on Addiction (CRAN) at NIH:

  • National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
  • National Cancer Institute

In partnership with:

  • Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
  • National Institute of Mental Health
  • National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities
  • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
  • NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research

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

Learn More

Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study

Additional Resources

News and Features

Last Revised: May 2020

ABCD Study®, Teen Brains. Today’s Science. Brighter Future.®, El cerebro adolescente. La ciencia de hoy. Un futuro más brillante.® and the ABCD Study Logos are registered marks of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). 

Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development SM Study, El Estudio del Desarrollo Cognitivo y Cerebral del Adolescente SM, are service marks of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).