We don’t think of addictive behaviour as especially clever. Usually, it seems the opposite. However, some studies suggest that addiction is linked to higher intelligence. There are several hypotheses for why this may be true.
More intelligent people are more curious.
Intelligence doesn’t always lead you to healthy behaviour. Sometimes it leads you to fly a kite in a thunderstorm or give yourself an ulcer to prove ulcers are caused by bacteria. For some people, satisfying their curiosity is more important than staying safe. Evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa would say that intelligent people are more likely to engage in evolutionarily novel behaviour. That is, most of us instinctively avoid ingesting unknown substances, but intelligent people are less constrained by this instinct and more curious about what will happen.
More intelligent people are easily bored.
Much like people with ADHD, intelligent people are easily bored. This is sometimes momentary boredom, as when they finish easy school work quickly and have nothing to do. It could also be more comprehensive boredom, like being tired of one experience of reality. Drugs and alcohol may offer a change in perspective that makes a monotonous world more interesting.
More intelligent people less emotionally stable.
IQ has little to do with emotional intelligence. In fact, higher intelligence may lead to less emotional stability for several reasons. First, intelligent people tend to be more imaginative. That’s normally considered a good thing, but it also means they can vividly imagine bad things, which can lead to chronic anxiety. They also tend to have good memories and often feel harrassed by vivid memories of bad experiences. Capping this off is the belief most intelligent people share that they can think their way out of emotional problems. In fact, more thinking often makes them worse. Drugs and alcohol become a way of getting a break from troubling worries, memories, and racing thoughts.
More intelligent people are more socially isolated.
Intelligence can be isolating. The higher your IQ, the fewer people with your intelligence. Not only that, but more intelligent people tend to have more unconventional ideas and values, which can make it hard to connect with other people. Intelligent people often have specific interests about which they know a lot and they can find it hard to connect with people who don’t share those interests. Their tendency to overthink often leads to social anxiety and they may feel they need drugs or alcohol to socialise. That is a common path to addiction.
Castle Craig Hospital is a landmark of addiction and mental health treatment in Scotland, serving the UK, the EU, and patients from all over the world. Our commitment to long term abstinence has created a successful programme of clinical and complementary therapies for mind, body, and spirit. Serving over 10,000 patients for more than 25 years, the Castle Craig model is proven in changing lives. Call our 24 hour free confidential phone-line for information: 0808 231 7723. From outside the UK please call: +44 1721 788 006
Page last reviewed and clinically fact-checked January 29, 2020