Have a high IQ? Try some drugs

According to White & Batty’s recent correlations, you may already have.

High childhood IQ may increase the risk of illegal drug use in adolescence and adulthood.

By looking at a pile of data from nearly 8,000 British participants in the early ’70s, the authors identified that men with verified high IQ scores at age 5 were roughly 50% more likely to have tried amphetamines, ecstasy, and other hard drugs by age 25. The effect was even stronger for women.

IQ scores at age 10 showed a similar yet weaker correlation, with adult drug use showing itself most clearly around age 30. Of the men and women surveyed, 30% of men and 15% of women had tried cannabis by 30, which is often considered to be a stepping stone to stronger drugs.

These data included self-reported measures of socioeconomic status, financial worry, parental functioning, and psychological distress, though adding those factors didn’t seem to explain any additional part of the IQ-drug relationship. The authors suppose that children with higher IQs are more eager than their peers to seek novel stimulation; put simply, illicit substances may be seen as a coping mechanism for pervasive boredom.

It’s interesting to consider that these data were pulled from children in the 1970’s, as they grew up in a society particularly soaked in musical, social, and political revolution—many of the revolutionary trends of the 60’s continued well into the 70’s, no doubt leaving indelible marks on the children from whom these data were collected. If a higher intelligence quotient is associated with a desire to learn more about the world, current events, and people of interest, then perhaps it isn’t too surprising that the apt children from that era were particularly curious about the substances associated with truly unique stimulation, championed (or at least tolerated) by many of the well-known personalities of the day.

This is not to suggest that experimenting with illicit substances is somehow a defining characteristic of those with higher IQs; In just 2008, overdoses on hard drugs accounted for over 36,000 deaths in the US alone. Prescription drugs including oxycodone, methadone, and hydrocodone have since surpassed those numbers. Surely there are myriad reasons why one might abuse substances. Alcohol abuse, for example, is also strongly related to higher childhood IQ, as noted by the authors.

“…other studies have linked higher childhood IQ scores to excess alcohol intake and alcohol dependency in adulthood.”

Understanding that a correlation exists between childhood intelligence quotient and drug use is a necessary facet of mapping the reasons why one might begin using drugs in the first place. Surely social factors are equally important, illustrating why repeated studies with data pulled from different countries, and during different eras, can only help reveal the subtleties of the IQ-drug relationship.

Regardless of opinion, we live in a world where LSD alone has sparked our understanding of advanced molecular biology methodology, and helped shape the early worldview of the late founder and CEO of one of America’s strongest consumer technology companies. If a better understanding of the motivation to use illicit substances might curb the sacrifices often associated with them, this line of research could be remarkable indeed.

James White, G. David Batty. Intelligence across childhood in relation to illegal drug use in adulthood: 1970 British Cohort Study. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 2011; DOI: 10.1136/jech-2011-200252. URL: http://jech.bmj.com/content/early/2011/10/28/jech-2011-200252

Prescription painkillers outpace heroin, cocaine in OD deaths (via CDC). LA Times (2011). URL: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/nov/01/news/la-heb-prescription-drug-overdose-deaths-20111101


About fictionism

Hi there. I've got a doctorate in Cognitive Science/HCI, a love for all things tech, and two turntables and a microphone.

Posted on November 16, 2011, in Medicine, Scientific Research and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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