Doesn’t it seem that addiction often strikes those who are especially gifted?
Some of the most talented actors and musicians end up in rehab, and so many promising young adults end up wasting their years in a prison of substance abuse.
Even many successful and bright entrepreneurs who created successful companies struggled with recovering from addiction while doing it.
Addiction is such a complex issue that it’s difficult to pinpoint why or how some people are prone to addiction, but there has been some work done in the area of addiction and intelligence. So if you think there’s a link, you’re not alone. Researchers have noticed it too.
And they’ve found that high intelligence is more commonly linked to intelligence than low intelligence.
In this post, we’re going to hypothesize on some of the reasons why this may be true.
But first, the science.
Research linking addiction and intelligence
One study that links addiction and intelligence found that children with high IQ test results in 1970 were more likely to abuse drugs later in life. Another study published in 2012 studied children born in 1958 and found similar results.
Naturally, anyone who works with addiction recovery would be curious about the correlation between addiction and intelligence. After all, people who are more intelligent are more likely to understand the many risks that addiction poses.
And although it’s near impossible to prove any one theory, there are a few logical explanations as to why this may be true.
First, highly intelligent people are easily bored. And some may turn to substance abuse in an attempt to quell their boredom.
Intelligent people may also feel the need to challenge themselves creatively, which may lead to experimentation with drugs.
We can’t say with any certainty why addiction seems to strike the most intelligent individuals, but we can provide some science-backed explanations.
Intelligence and emotional instability
One study labeled “The Correlation Between Emotional Intelligence and Unstable Personality in Substance Abusers” came to the conclusion that there was a correlation between unstable personality and substance abuse.
The study suggests that people who are highly intelligent suffer from greater emotional and mental health issues. And there is potential that people who are more intelligent may ponder moral and ethical issues in greater depth than those who are less intelligent.
We do know that there’s a correlation between mental health issues and substance abuse already, so this connection seems to hold weight.
Many intelligent people find it difficult to shut down and stop thinking. They experience rapid-fire thoughts that don’t slow down, and they may have difficulty processing them. This often leads to frustration, depression, and possibly anger. And these things can lead to emotional instability.
Intelligence does not equate to maturity
In young children, parents often equate intelligence to maturity, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. You can score exceptionally high on an IQ test and still act in very childlike ways. This isn’t always a bad thing, of course, but it can make a person more likely to succumb to addiction in their teenage years when maturity is underdeveloped.
To make a distinction between intelligence and maturity, we can say that intelligence deals with intellectual ability and maturity deals with emotional ability. Someone who is highly intelligent will have no trouble solving equations, but they may struggle to understand social situations. Someone who is mature but not highly intelligent may be able to navigate tricky emotional situations but fail academic tests.
Bottom line: Being highly intelligent doesn’t make you mature. And people who lack emotional maturity are more likely to abuse dangerous illicit drugs.
It’s possible that highly intelligent people who lack maturity use drugs and alcohol as a way to help them cope with trauma or difficult social situations. A high level of intelligence may cause them to ruminate over the issues, yet they are not emotionally equipped to handle the problems.
What to do if you’re addicted
If you’ve found yourself addicted to drugs or alcohol, please understand that it’s not a sign of poor intelligence. And while there aren’t any reasons to celebrate addiction, it may actually be more likely that you are highly intelligent.
But in reality, it doesn’t matter where your IQ falls. Addiction will destroy an otherwise healthy life. If you’re addicted, it’s time to get help.
And if you’re worried about someone in your life, understand that change must always come from within. The best you can do is to let your highly intelligent loved one know that you are there for them when they’re ready to get help.