The Correlation Between IQ & Substance Use

A long standing myth supports the idea that intelligent people are more likely to abuse substances. However, the data doesn't support this trope.

Get Help Now!

People who do well on intelligence tests and are perceived to have high intelligence by others may be more likely to engage in substance abuse.

While the explanation for the correlation is complex, experts generally agree that the trend is linked to increased access, a higher rate of mental health issues, and the desire to experiment with drug and alcohol consumption.

What Does Having A High IQ Mean?

Modern IQ tests are designed to identify an individual’s ability to problem-solve, reason, and process information. People who do well on these tests are often thought to display higher intelligence.

In recent years, the use of IQ tests to measure intelligence has come under fire, as privileged, white Americans frequently perform better because the standards were designed by and for them.

As a result, many people reject the importance of IQ tests and prefer a more holistic view of intelligence that includes real world behaviors and decision-making.

In the context of studies performed to look at the correlation between intelligence and addiction, IQ tests were sometimes used but education level and other markers are often included.

The Connection Between Intellect And Risk-Taking

There are a number of studies that suggest that more intelligent people tend to be less risk averse than others.

While numerous pieces of peer-reviewed research support this conclusion, a comprehensive overview suggests that the correlation is weak at best.

A study published by Cambridge University Press in 2023 performed a meta-analysis of 97 different studies to find that the perceived correlation between intellect and risk-taking is far less significant than previously believed.

With that said, the slight correlation overall suggests that some intelligent people may be more likely to engage in risky behaviors such as drug use.

Additional Factors That Intersect To Increase Substance Use

The explanation for why intelligent people may be more likely to use drugs and alcohol is not a simple one.

To fully understand the correlation, it’s important to consider the personality traits that shape our society’s perceptions of intelligence and the risk factors that accompany those traits.

Socioeconomic Status

While there is only a slight correlation between social class and higher IQ scores, people who are born into wealth and comfort have advantages that may increase their perceived intelligence.

These same people often have more access to illegal drugs, alcohol, and prescription drugs due to excess income and their social circles.

The potential negative outcomes of drug and alcohol abuse are also less daunting because fines, court costs, and medical costs are unlikely to have a significant economic impact.

Psychological Health

People who are perceived to be more intelligent may also be more likely to develop mental health disorders.

Mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety all have a genetic component, which seems to correlate to hereditary forms of intellect.

Some experts also suggest that high expectations for high school and college students who test well on childhood IQ tests may have a role to play in elevated rates of anxiety and depression.

People who experience mental health symptoms are more likely to self-medicate using drugs or alcohol to address feelings of sadness, loneliness, and pain.

Neurological Function

Scientists do not fully understand all of the intricacies of how the human brain works or how intelligence is affected by the form and function of the brain.

With that said, there has been some evidence to suggest that more intelligent people may produce more dopamine and other important neurotransmitters, increasing some aspects of efficiency.

Elevated dopamine production is also tied to creativity, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

These increased levels in combination with the effects of drugs or alcohol make it easier for people to build habits, contributing to routine substance and addiction.

Is Someone With A High IQ Less Likely To Be Addicted?

The “smart drug user” is a well-known trope most frequently immortalized by the likes of Sherlock Holmes and other similar characters, but it is a myth.

An intelligent person may choose to take calculated risks, but they are not immune to the physical and neurological effects of drugs and alcohol.

Research by scientists and public health organizations suggests that intelligent people may be even more likely to develop an alcohol dependence or drug addiction in response to drug or alcohol use.

Ask About Our Addiction Treatment Center At Spring Hill

If you or a loved one need help with a substance use disorder, you can get help at Spring Hill Recovery Center. Contact our addiction treatment program today to get started.

  1. Cambridge University Press
  2. Healthline,t%20tell%20the%20whole%20story.
  3. National Institute Of Drug Abuse (NIDA),to%20the%20formation%20of%20habits.
  4. National Library Of Medicine: PubMed
  5. Science Daily

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

Published on: February 27, 2024

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

Prefer Texting?
We've got you covered.

Receive 24/7 text support right away.
There is no obligation and you can opt out at any time.

Sign up for text support

Receive 24/7 text support right away.
There is no obligation and you can opt out at any time.
Ready to make a change? Talk to a specialist now.
(617) 657-2877
icon-angle icon-bars icon-times