The “Just Say No” generation was often told by parents and teachers that intelligent people didn’t use drugs. Turns out, the adults may have been wrong.A new British study finds children with high IQs are more likely to use drugs as adults than people who score low on IQ tests as children. The data come from the 1970 British Cohort Study, which has been following thousands of people over decades. The kids’ IQs were tested at the ages of 5, 10 and 16. The study also asked about drug use and looked at education and other socioeconomic factors. Then when participants turned 30, they were asked whether they had used drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and heroin in the past year.
Researchers discovered men with high childhood IQs were up to two times more likely to use illegal drugs than their lower-scoring counterparts. Girls with high IQs were up to three times more likely to use drugs as adults. A high IQ is defined as a score between 107 and 158. An average IQ is 100. The study appears in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
The researchers hypothesize that intelligent kids are more likely to try drugs because they’re more likely to seek new experiences (ding!), feel bored in school (ding!), or cope with feeling different (ding!). But I think there is another obvious explanation at work: intelligent kids make intelligent decisions.
All our lives we are saturated with cultural messages extolling the virtues of drink. Every day we are bombarded with commercials for the next magic pill. So if we take it for granted that (a) humans have a natural innate desire to alter consciousness and (b) our culture promotes the use of drugs and alcohol to alter consciousness, then it follows that (c) a person making an informed choice as to how they’ll alter their consciousness will pick the safer drugs.
The confound in this hypothesis is the report here says “more likely to use illegal drugs… such as marijuana, cocaine and heroin.” Since most “drugs” being used are “marijuana”, I’m assuming the smarter kids make the smarter choice to smoke weed, but I can’t tease out the IQ vs. cocaine and heroin alone, so it is hard to tell.
I can only go from my own experience. I was one of those “gifted and talented” kids. I was kicked ahead a grade in school, placed the 2nd-highest on the citywide Iowa skills test, always made honor roll and took college courses beginning my junior year. That was the same time I began drinking alcohol. From age 16 to age 22 my academic performance plummeted and I eventually flunked out of college with a GPA of 1.88 and a BAC of 0.24.
Then at age 22 I smoked my first joint. My initial thought was “THIS is drugs?!?” I was so amazed that the herb didn’t give me a hangover, didn’t make me puke, didn’t turn me belligerent, and left me feeling great the next day and yet, the alcohol I’d been chugging was the legal drug. My drinking tapered off to almost nothing as I became friendlier with the ganja.
Unfortunately, having been lied to about marijuana I figured that I had been lied to about cocaine and methamphetamine as well. As a curious and thrill-seeking young man, I tried them both. Meth damn near killed me and as I recovered from an emergency surgery to save my life I pledged to stay away from the hard drugs. That included the oxycontin and vicodin the doctors prescribed post-surgery; I treated my pain with cannabis, which also beat back the withdrawals from the meth. Cannabis saved my life from yet another hard drug, first alcohol, then meth… if anything, it was my gateway away from hard drugs.
So I think the study isn’t whether smart kids are more likely to do drugs… it’s that smart kids are as likely to do drugs as anyone else, they just pick the safer ones.