Kids With High IQs More Likely To Use Drugs?

A UK study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health last year found that children with the highest IQs at ages 5 and 10 were more likely to experiment with illegal drugs later in life. Participants with IQs of 107-158 were asked about their drug use at age 30, and more of them than expected reported using one or more drugs in the past year. The lead author of the study, James White of Cardiff University, told Time magazine, “It’s counterintuitive. It’s not what we thought we would find.”

Reading the details of the study, I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps it’s only counterintuitive to researchers with limited experience working with gifted children, who are often alienated from their peers and bored to tears even in advanced classes. There’s been a great deal of research into so-called gifted “underachievement” by children and teens whose academic performance doesn’t reflect their high test scores – and the same pressures which cause gifted kids to fail in school can just as easily drive them to use drugs or alcohol.

Underachievement can occur for many reasons, including the presence of a learning disability, frustration at the lack of intellectual challenge, depression, and a lack of motivation when they don’t see any intrinsic reward in academic tasks. And often, the National Association for Gifted Children points out, underachievement is specific to a particular situation and subject. It can be due to poor self-image and fear of failure – and being very intelligent but feeling “stupid” is more common than you’d think. But it can just as easily occur when a child has outside interests or passions which they consider more important than what they’re being taught in school.

While it’s not true that highly intelligent people abuse drugs across the board, the study found that gifted women were twice as likely to use marijuana or cocaine, and that gifted men were 50% more likely to take amphetamines and 65% more likely to use ecstasy. This was true even when controlling for socioeconomic status and psychological distress, which both can correlate with drug use.

The study’s authors point to a few reasons why this pattern might emerge. They write that “high-IQ individuals have also been shown to score highly on tests of stimulation seeking and openness to experience.” They go on to state that it could be that “illegal drugs are better at fulfilling a desire for novelty and stimulation.” But their other hypothesis, which seems to be added almost as an afterthought, makes more sense to me as someone with about 10 years experience working in gifted education.

While they believe that there’s more going on than simply self-medication, the study authors concede that the observed boredom and social isolation many gifted children experience could explain the higher rates of drug use. They don’t think this is a significant factor because they focused on cases where study participants showed no psychological issues. And I think they’re really discounting the effect that social alienation can have on people – and the fact that by age 30, even if these people felt “different” and awkward in high school, they’ve probably moved on to have careers they find substantially more fulfilling. Even if the psychological stress is no longer there, the interest in drugs may still be.

Finally, it needs to be noted that there are some problems with how the study classifies IQ scores. 107-158 is not necessarily a useful range to examine – all are scores above the average of 100, but only children with an IQ of 120-130 or above are usually considered “gifted” by educational programs. 158 is a very high IQ score, estimated to occur in only 1 in 18,120 people. It’s not astronomically high, but it is fairly rare compared to the 1 in 3 score of 107. I’d like to see what further research might find on the subject, dealing with adults who tested at least 120 or above as children, to see if the statistical trend still holds up.

Related Stories:

Education Pioneer Annemarie Roeper Passes Away

Is the Bell Curve Wrong? (Or Are We Just Lazy?)

What Happens When Gifted Kids Grow Up?

Photo credit: Andres Rueda


Thomas Morrison
Tracey Morrison3 years ago

Thank you so very much, this is In favor of my thesis purpose. Very helpful.
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Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

Josh M is my boyfriend and his posts are actually mine that I posted with his fb by accident o.O

Josh M.
Past Member 5 years ago

im not shocked. i would think "gifted" children would hunger for knowledge and seek it out, thus be more aware of the world around them. And let's face it, it isn't always a happy world. The burden of compassion is a heavy one

Pogle S.
Pogle S5 years ago

Just keep taking the drugs until the pain goes away...

Pogle S.
Pogle S5 years ago

In the Society of the Spectacle we live in a world of carefully constructed illusions – about ourselves, each other, about power, authority, justice and daily life.

These illusions are both constructed and reflected by education, advertising, propaganda, television, newspapers, speeches, elections, politics, religion, business transactions, and the courts.

They are perpetuated by us from the moment we accept this as a valid view of the world. We don’t have to agree to every detail; in fact we are positively encouraged to argue and take sides over a host of prefabricated issues. We simply have to accept this view of the world; to view life from the perspective of power.

All power preserves itself by the construction of illusions; by the perpetuation of a massive confidence trick. Violent acts of repression by the state are designed to ‘make an example’ of those who dissent. As real as these acts of repression are to the individuals and groups who suffer them, in terms of society as a whole it is a bluff.

No police force or army in the world could hold down one tenth of its population by force alone.

Larry Law – Spectacular Times

Cindy B.
Cindy B5 years ago

Heck, the smarter you are, the more INSUFFERABLE the state of the world and the people in it become. The more UNCONSCIONABLE are the actions of the stupid, and the more FRUSTRATED you feel about the fact that you ain't gonna be able to make one bit of difference when all is said and done. Capitalism, greed, overpopulation, social complexity, interpersonal alienation... and it's all caught up in a self-perpetuating, self-tightening circle.

SO: BRING ON THE DAMN DRUGS! (After doing what you can in spite of it all, of course).

Dee D.
De D5 years ago

This is a very interesting post - thanks for sharing.

Dijana D.
Dijana D5 years ago

this is true, im not surprised

Duane B.
.5 years ago

Seems rather logical ...

Norma V.
Norma Villarreal5 years ago

People do what they do....