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Intelligence and Addiction
A large number of stigmas (negative ideas about a certain behavior) surround drug use. Many people have an idea in their heads of what an addict looks like based on these stigmas, but that image is often wrong.
One widely held belief is that only less intelligent or less educated people abuse drugs and alcohol. The current opioid epidemic, which mostly affects rural areas, has fueled this stigma further, almost turning it into a popular myth.
In reality, there is a strong correlation between intelligence and addiction. Even high-achieving celebrities or brilliant thinkers have suffered from addiction throughout history—and that has not changed today.
A Long History of Addiction in Great Thinkers
You can probably name a few successful celebrities now who have experienced addiction, from Eminem to Demi Lovato to Russell Brand. But you can go back hundreds of years to find more examples of famous, intelligent, and talented individuals who experience addiction, including:
- Sigmund Freud, who use cocaine
- Charles Dickens, who used opium
- Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe, and Vincent Van Gogh, who all abused alcohol
- Kurt Cobain, who used heroine
- Stephen King, who in the past has abused cocaine, Xanax and Nyquil
- President Ulysses S. Grant, who experienced alcohol addiction
Just like cancer or heart disease, addiction does not discriminate between the intelligent and unintelligent, the rich and the poor. There are likely dozens of other examples of addiction and substance abuse among history’s brightest minds.
Scientific Evidence for a Intelligence and Addiction Correlation
Recent studies have also revealed a correlation between high intelligence and drug use. A study published in 2011 found that children who had a high IQ recorded in 1970 were more likely to have used drugs in their lives and were more likely to have tried drugs at earlier age. This was more true in men than in women.
Another study, published in 2012, found similar results for children born in 1958 who had recorded high IQs. Both of these studies disprove the widely held belief that addiction is something that only occurs in unintelligent individuals.
Why This Correlation Exists
It’s important to remember that correlation is not causation. Though intelligent people may be more likely to use drugs that doesn’t meant that their intelligence is the reason they use drugs
Researchers are still trying to find out why intelligent people, who likely fully understand the consequences of drug use, are still prone to addiction. Unfortunately, it is hard to study the cause of drug use and find definitive proof. Still, some researchers have proposed theories on the intelligence addiction correlation.
One theory is that intelligent people, particularly young people in schools, become bored easily. They need challenged and intellectually stimulated by new and novel experiences. Drugs and their effects on the mind provide that stimulation. Though this theory may sound logical, it doesn’t account for the many intelligent people who don’t use drugs or the very busy people, who shouldn’t be bored, who end up fighting addiction.
Another theory is that intelligent people need to feel as if they are constantly moving forward by overcoming challenges. In this theory, addiction is the ultimate challenge to prove personal strength. Again, this theory doesn’t quite fit. Historically many great thinkers face and overcome many challenges—why would they need to turn to addiction for more challenges?
Yet another theory states that intelligent people are creative thinkers that use drugs to further fuel their creativity. Unfortunately this theory perpetuates a myth that drug use makes you more creative. Many drugs can actually dull the mind and memory, harming both creativity and intelligence.
All of the theories above also ignore the many emotional and psychological factors of addiction. Many people who fight addiction are also fighting mental illness or have experienced trauma. None of these theories take that into account.
The Likely Origin Behind the Stigma
Though we may never know why intelligent people are more likely to use drugs, we can probably guess why it seems like intelligence and addiction shouldn’t go hand-in-hand. This correlation may seem counterintuitive because we are mixing up two very different qualities: intelligence and maturity.
Intelligence has to do with thinking and cognition. It allows people to process information quickly and understand the world around them. However, intelligence doesn’t mean that a person understands themselves and their own emotions.
Maturity, however, has to do with processing emotions. A mature person may not be intelligent, but they understand their own emotions and how to process them. They are more likely to handle stress and negative experiences in a healthy way instead of turning to substance use.
Unfortunately, we often mistake intelligent people, who seem so capable moving through the world, as mature people. But the two traits are completely different.
The idea that only unintelligent people use drugs may also stem from this confusion. We may think you have to be dumb to use drugs, but in reality, it may be that you simply have to be immature.
Why We Should Ignore Stigmas
All stigmas around addiction are wrong and harmful, whether it is that people who use drugs are unintelligent or immoral. As shown above, stigmas aren’t often based in fact and these stigmas may actually keep people from seeking out the care they need.
Stigmas can also affect the mental health and self-esteem of people fighting addiction. These issues can compound the problem, making addiction even more difficult to treat.
And people who believe in these stigmas are less likely to support the policies and care needed to fight addiction. For instance, people who believe in stigmas were less likely to think health insurance should cover addiction treatment.
At Harmony Place, we work to fight stigmas surrounding addiction and addiction treatment. We offer supportive, judgment-free care designed to help you achieve long-term abstinence, improved self-esteem, and better mental health. Through group, individual, and family therapy, we help you and your loved ones stop believing in stigmas and change the way you think about the disease of addiction.
At Harmony Place in Woodland Hills, California, we provide a relaxing, comfortable environment for addiction treatment and recovery with many addiction treatment program options. Contact us today at 1-(888)-789-4330 to learn more about our services and how you or your loved one can prepare for a successful rehabilitation from drug and alcohol addiction at our California treatment center.