Why Are Smarter People More Likely to Abuse Drugs and Alcohol?

Why Are Smarter People More Likely to Abuse Drugs and Alcohol?

Most people would assume the more intelligent a person is, the less likely alcohol or substance abuse or addiction would be an issue. In reality this is quite the opposite.

Why would someone who is intelligent enough to know the risks of drug abuse partake? The answers are unclear.

The link between intelligence and substance abuse

According to a study conducted on nearly 8,000 people in 1970 by British Cohort Study. The sample population was measured by their IQ scores at ages 5 and 10. Then was followed up when the people were 16 and 30. The individuals who had the higher IQ scores were more likely to use marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines (stimulants), alcohol, ecstasy or a combination of all of the above. Women specifically in this study with IQ scores in the top 33%, were more than twice as likely to have used cocaine and marijuana by 30 than those in the bottom 33%.

When speaking of just alcohol abuse, even with the social factors of education, religion, social class, and happiness in life the more intelligent you are the more likely you are to develop alcoholism. So why is there a correlation between substance and alcohol abuse and intelligence?

Possible explanations

There are many theories on why this relationship could exist. Many believe that because you have a high IQ, you grew up in a more privileged environment, less stress, better education, better healthcare, and these are factors that allow the growth of intelligence. Many think that this environment shields this group from the downsides of drug-use.

An intelligent person could look at their friends and family participating in the drug use and think if everyone they know is frequently using drugs how is this harmful, and therefore are more comfortable participating in substance abuse and alcohol abuse.

Another theory by psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa, in his Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis is that live evolves to become better adapted to a certain environment. There are adaptations in all animals, these happen so that the animals that possess the adaptive behavior are able to thrive and survive in these situations. The Savanna hypothesis contends that general intelligence evolved as an adaptation to solve evolutionarily novel problems; that is, the unexpected challenges of the environment.

The Savanna hypothesis suggests that outside of the “natural” environment, humans with more intelligence would want to try things outside “normal” things- a more novel experience, in his words. Humans who leave their “savanna”- the natural environment, would be both intelligent and inclined to try new things, like alcohol and drugs. This link and hypothesis would be the reason why intelligent people do drugs; the mere fact that drugs are unhealthy would be less relevant than the fact that drugs are a more novel scenario for which we have a hard-wired response to want to try.
A common argument by many scientists is that there are many people who do not partake in any sort of substance abuse. There are numerous other points of contention against the hypothesis, but very few other proposals have been able to explain why smart people would want to seek out these types of novel experiences like drug and alcohol abuse.

It could be that intelligent people are more easily bored and that by partaking in drug and alcohol abuse is the best way to keep themselves entertained, or that smart people learn from their altered state of world views, or use it for creativity.

At the end of the day, there is no proven reason on why the abuse happens, but it is related- there is a correlation between substance abuse/addiction and intelligence. “Sherlock Holmes isn’t an opium addict for no reason.”

If you or someone you know falls into this category and you think there is an addiction issue present, we at The Best Treatment Center can help. Call us anytime:

Call us:   1-888-4TBTNOW

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.