Impulsivity as the core disorder of conduct problems and addictions


Impulsivity is a very common clinical problem which can be seen as a core symptom domain in a number of disorders which are a matter for increasing concern in the UK. For example, the UK now tops the European substance misuse league in adolescent binge drinking and illicit drug use. Impulsivity is central to a wide range of childhood and adult disorders (e.g. ADHD, conduct disorders, cluster B personality disorders, paraphililias, self-injurious disorder). Childhood impulsivity predicts adult psychiatric outcomes as well as many barriers to wellbeing at the mental/physical health interface reflecting poor lifestyle choices (e.g. smoking, over eating, alcohol & drug use) which in turn precipitate negative health outcomes such as obesity, hypertension & addiction.

By intervening early and effectively in childhood impulsivity disorders, we aim to i) improve neurocognitive function, social relationships & educational achievement; ii) reduce the likelihood of impulsive disorders persisting into adulthood; iii) improve lifestyle choices supporting both mental and physical well-being.Kid with ADHD

Our expertise

Research on mechanisms includes new discoveries via functional brain imaging that address decision-making, computational modeling of impulsive decision making and impulsivity in Parkinson’s Disease; advanced neuroscientific understanding of childhood and adolescent conduct disorders; new insights into the role of cannabinoids in development of substance abuse, addiction and associated cognitive dysfunction; study of ADHD (modelled in mice) at the neurobiological and genetic level (in humans); and early identification of attention deficits in children at risk of ADHD, related to premature birth. Innovative interventions include mentalization-based treatment, a new treatment for BPD confirmed by two successful RCTs and included in NICE guidelines, and leading on the Government’s Foresight programme on Brain Science and Addiction, predicting the next 25 years of substance abuse & dependence. An innovative new National Threat Assessment and Management Unit to deal with fixated persons (stalkers), jointly run by BEHMHT with mental health and police personnel, will be the most developed such service in the world. Treatment and service evaluation work includes Systemic Therapy for At-Risk Teens (START), the largest study of multisystemic therapy for conduct disorder ever conducted, funded by the DCSF, for which UCL is the central site.

Key departments and research groups

The Anna Freud Centre (AFC)
Clinical Psychopharmacology Unit (CPU)
Developmental Risk and Resilience Unit (DRRU)
Hunt Lab, UCL Research Department of Cell and Developmental Biology



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