Reason would dictate that the kids with lower IQs would be more likely to experiment with drugs, right? After all, they probably struggle in school, making them feel frustrated and unhappy, which would then cause them to turn to drugs to feel better. It would make sense that the kids with higher IQs would be more satisfied in general and less likely to risk any problems that drug use could bring up. However, new research finds that the truth is just the opposite of common sense: it's the kids with higher IQs who are more likely to use illegal substances.
The study, which took place at Cardiff University in Wales, determined that marijuana, cocaine, amphetamine, and ecstasy use was more common among people with high IQs as opposed to their peers with lower IQs.1 The research involved 7,900 participants in Great Britain, all of whom were born in April 1970. The scientists began working with the subjects when they were five years old, testing their IQs then and again at 10. Follow-up interviews were conducted with all of the volunteers, first at 16 and then at 30, to find out whether they had used drugs and assess their psychological well-being.
The participants were asked about whether they had used drugs in the previous year. Those who had scored higher on their IQ measurement evaluations were much more likely to reply in the affirmative. Approximately 35 percent of the men and 16 percent of the women reported marijuana use, and nine percent of men and four percent of women reported cocaine use. The women who had an IQ in the top third of the group at five years old were more than twice as likely to have used either marijuana or cocaine when they were 30 than were the women who had an IQ in the bottom third of the group. And the men who had scored highest on the IQ tests as children were almost 50 percent more likely to use amphetamines and 65 percent more likely to use ecstasy as compared to their lower-scoring peers.
When the researchers factored in such influences as psychological distress and socioeconomic levels, the results remained constant. So clearly the subjects weren't self-medicating to alleviate their unhappiness. And, since people with the highest IQs tend to be well educated, employed in lucrative jobs, and generally quite comfortable, they were probably not using drugs as a form of rebellion or societal protest.
So what might make them more inclined to turn toward drug use than others with lower IQs? One theory is that those with higher levels of intelligence tend to be more open to new experiences and experimentation in general. But that doesn't really make sense when considering something like marijuana. If these people grew up smoking an occasional joint with no repercussions, the feeling of novelty would have long worn off.
In addition, people with high IQs are also typically a health conscious group, well read on nutrition and interested in fitness. So it's more than a bit contradictory that they would indulge in drugs, especially more addictive, potentially dangerous ones like cocaine and amphetamines. Then again, earlier research has found that large numbers of scientists and physicians -- two groups dominated by fairly intelligent individuals -- use various types of drugs on a regular basis. A 2008 internet survey sponsored by the Nature Network found that 20 percent of scientists use prescription drugs recreationally and about 10 percent use them daily or weekly.2 And then there are doctors, who are treating patients while addicted to drugs -- like Dr. Gregory House, on the TV show House, who's addicted to Vicodin. And he's not alone. In the real world, most sources suggest that 10 to 15 percent of practicing physicians have, or have had, an addiction problem, particularly with alcohol, benzodiazepines, opiates, and cocaine.3
Some people might think this means that a little occasional use by some of the high-IQ citizenry doesn't sound so bad. But seriously, if you're looking for a novel experience, getting wasted probably isn't the best novel experience you can find. Especially if you are smart enough to want to be health conscious, then you know that taking drugs always involves risk versus a short-term benefit. Use those brains and leave the drugs alone. Find excitement in taking a trip somewhere exotic or by skiing down a high mountain instead.
1 Szalavitz, Maia. "Why kids with high IQs are more likely to take drugs." Time. 15 November 2011. Accessed 16 February 2012. <http://healthland.time.com/2011/11/15/why-kids-with-high-iq-are-more-likely-to-take-drugs/#0_undefined,0_>.
2 undefined. "Scientists on drugs to boost brain power." ABC Science. 10 April 2008. Accessed 16 February 2012. <http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2008/04/10/2213144.htm>.
3 undefined. "Addicted doctors still practice while in rehab." msnbc. 18 December 2007. Accessed 16 February 2012. <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22314486/>.