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The Connection Between Intelligence and Addiction: Why Some ‘Smart’ People Are Getting High

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Are smart people more inclined to experiment with mind-altering substances? Or are “thinkers” more interested in exploring their psyche through marijuana and other drugs as compared to their more down-to-earth peers? An article published by Psychology Today reports that more intelligent children in the UK are more likely to grow up and use psychoactive drugs and alcohol than less intelligent children. The National Child Development study found that British children who are more intelligent by age 16 are more likely to use a psychoactive drug at the age of 42 than less intelligent children. Based on these findings, intelligence does not always predict the ability to make good choices.[1]

Smart Drug Use?

There is no such thing as smart drug use. However, addicts are not necessarily people with low IQs, at least when they first start experimenting with drugs and alcohol. What drives people who intellectually understand the risks associated with drug use to begin – or continue – getting high or drinking?

There are a number of possibilities:

  • The “It won’t happen to me” syndrome. Many young people believe that even though there are risks, they won’t fall victim to them.
  • Stress. Philosophy majors, like others in college or just starting out in the world, have certain expectations of themselves. The stress of getting good grades alone is enough to drive many students to get high as a form of stress relief.
  • Curiosity. Many young people feel invincible enough that curiosity about the effects of drugs will override any fears associated with the outcome.
  • Trauma and other co–occurring mental health disorders. It’s not uncommon for those with a history of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse to turn to drugs and alcohol for an escape. In the same way, patients who are diagnosed with a co-occurring mental health disorder are more likely to use drugs than their peers.

Convincing Someone to Get Help

Male mathematicianOften those who feel more intelligent than their peers will take longer to recognize they are suffering from an addiction that requires treatment.[2] When a person recognizes his or her superior intelligence, she is less likely to reach out for the help she needs to recover from addiction. No matter the level of intelligence of your addicted loved one, the first and most important step to recovery is realizing there is a problem. And that takes courage more than anything else.

If you are concerned that people you care about are using drugs and harming themselves in the process, we can help. Call us now to learn about treatment options. We can provide your loved one with the medical care and intervention she needs to heal here at Michael’s House. Don’t wait. Call now.


[1] Satoshi Kanazawa. “Why Intelligent People Use More Drugs,” Psychology Today, November 1, 2010. Accessed April 11, 2017.

[2] The National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction,” July 2016. Accessed April 11, 2017. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction

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