High IQ in Children Linked to Drug Use Later in Life

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A new British study has found that people who scored well on IQ tests as children are more likely to be drug users as adults, especially women. Authors James White and G. David Batty published their study online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, and looked at data from almost 8,000 people over several decades to test what habits and qualities are tied to drug use.

The results suggest that men with high IQ scores at 5 years-old are 50 percent more likely to use drugs by the age of 30 than those with low IQ scores. High IQ scoring women at 5 years-old are twice as likely to use drugs than their low IQ counterparts. The authors are unclear why there is a link between intelligence and drug use. 

Potential explanations are that intelligent people are open to new experiences, bored, or using drugs to cope with feeling different from their peers. Intelligence and drug use were linked independent of other factors like social class, household income, and other mental health problems. 

[HT: Eric M. Jones)

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  1. Mike B says:

    Well high intelligence is often a precursor to one developing cynicism that destroys the happy illusion that most people live their lives in, revealing the world to be not much more than a big pile of dung. Drugs and alcohol help the highly intelligent re-experience this illusion so they can continue to interact with the rest of society.

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  2. Shane says:

    Related to tolerance towards drug use in universities? I did not know anyone who took illicit drugs until I went to university, where quite a few people used them recreationally, and nobody seemed to be surprised or concerned about it.

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    • James says:

      More likely just a commentary on where you grew up. Drug use was rife where I was born, so moving to university meant hanging out with fewer stoners rather than more.

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  3. Rebecca says:

    Could this be about how they are treated? The way they are made to stand apart from others their whole lives, perhaps even unrealistic expectations on the part of parents?
    I knew a number of kids who went to “schools for the gifted” when I was a teenager – which I always found strange growing up in Switzerland where there was no such thing. In any case most of these kids went on to struggle with addiction or nervous breakdowns of some sort.

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    • Jake says:

      I agree with Rebecca’s comment. A likely explanation that isn’t mentioned is that kids who are perceived as “intelligent” or marked as such at an early age are often held to higher standards that they perhaps cannot live up to.

      Alternatively, the notion that a certain child is special in this regard is reinforced constantly, both to the child himself and to his peers, educators, family members, and friends. This could lead to the child feeling entitled or even protected by his intelligence, and thus more likely to engage in risky behavior.

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    • Lisa says:

      I don’t think you can conclude that this has anything to do with how these kids were/are treated. The IQ ranges for the high IQ group are very wide, 107.33-158.28 at 5 and 106.65-150.92 at 10. In general, the gifted label comes with an IQ score above 115 and I would say not really until ~130.

      Mildly Gifted — 115 to 129
      Moderately Gifted — 130 to 144
      Highly Gifted — 145 to 159
      Exceptionally Gifted — 160 to 179
      Profoundly Gifted — 180

      There are huge discrepancies between children in the highly gifted range + and their same-age peers. In general, these kids don’t fit into a regular educational environment or get along very well socially. The one I happen to be the parent of puts all the pressure on herself. She is an intense being who can’t turn her brain off. I can easily see what the allure of drugs would be to her- a brief moment of calm where she isn’t plagued by all the details of life and justice in the world.

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  4. Bart says:

    Nice to see another one of Adam Carolla’s theories (that the brains of the very intelligent will eventually turn against their owners) confirmed.

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  5. Ben says:

    Maybe it’s just a budget constraint: High IQ people earn more money, and therefore can buy drugs more easily. Not sure if the authors of the study control for income at all…

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    • Trevor says:

      You would be sure if you read the article:

      “Intelligence and drug use were linked independent of other factors like social class, *household income*, and other mental health problems.”

      (my emphasis)

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  6. Ricardo says:

    Define drug use. Is this experimentation or habitual? It makes a difference in analyzing/discussing results.

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    • Benjamin Childers says:

      @Ricardo I agree with you that drug use needs to be defined. Is this simply smoking marijuana or is it the use of hard-core substances?

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      • Sun Tzu says:

        Listed in the methodology in the study abstract.

        “measures of lifetime cannabis and cocaine use”
        “cannabis, cocaine, amphetamine, ecstasy and polydrug use (more than three drugs) in the past 12 months”

        They aren’t distinguishing between recreational and addictive use. But from their results, it would seem they did run distinct correlations for the separate drugs and still found correlating effects. It appears to be across the board, not just smoking marijuana.

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      • Dan says:

        What’s hardcore? Not just a list, but the criteria you would use to assign levels of hardcoreness.

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  7. Nicholas P. Planas says:

    The pain of being intelligent…

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  8. Sun Tzu says:

    This was really the most interesting part of the conclusion. “Associations were stronger in women than in men and were independent from psychological distress in adolescence and life-course socioeconomic position. ” I would guess that it’s not a coping mechanism from being “made to feel different. ” Then it could be more of a trying to fit back in behavior, which isn’t what is happening if intelligent kids are more likely to use.

    I think it is more an awareness that “you” are different and will tend to be more at ease challenging status quo assumptions of appropriate behavior, rather than some kind of coping mechanism, it’s an identity signal of your ability to use intellect to rebel. There are also studies linking intelligence (in adults) to other forms of “radical” social positioning (atheism, libertarianism, anarchism, etc). So adding this one is not terribly surprising. It’s the stronger association in women that really clinches it for me. Social pressures for conformity, as well as attempted means of control to impose it, are a lot stronger on women in many Western societies (US in particular). Higher intelligence tends to be the foremost effective weapon in fighting back against such controls.

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