Intelligent People Are More Likely to Use Drugs


Satoshi Kanazawa is an author and evolutionary psychologist at London School of Economics. He is also the controversial character who was dismissed from Psychology Today for writing the insubstantially supported article Why are Black Women Less Physically Attractive than Other Women. He wrote Why Intelligent People Use More Drugs for the Psychology Today website, arguing The Savanna Principle, which he developed.

The principle is built upon the evolutionary psychology concept of EEA – environment of evolutionary adaptedness. EEA states that human evolution occurred mainly in the Pleistocene era, which ended about 12,000 years ago. The argument is that human brains are wired to deal with life as it would have been during the Pleistocene era. Kanazawa’s Savanna Principle asserts that human development evolved during the Pleistocene era on the African Savanna, and that any reasonable hypothesis about human behavior must incorporate the EEA. Although the link can be made between IQ and drug use, given the cohort studies; and the link can be made between IQ, drug use, and novelty given the cohort studies coupled with the longitudinal study published in 2002; the link cannot be reliably made between novelty seeking behaviors and evolutionary progress.

However popular Kanazawa’s theory that intelligent people use drugs because drugs are recent stimuli in respect to human evolution, it is unproven and according to critics of evolutionary psychology, untestable. While the EEA argument applied to novelty and drug use cannot be dispelled, it also cannot currently be proven, and seems somewhat dismissive of the myriad of socioeconomic and cultural variables, that, try as the researchers might, cannot be eliminated from intelligence testing, and/or the world in which people take illicit drugs.

See also: 6 dangerous prescription drugs you should think twice before taking


Several other theories on why high childhood IQ can be linked to drug use in adolescent and adult life have been posited by both the authors of the cohort studies as well as those who report on their findings. Clinton B. McCracken’s emotional opinion piece, Intellectualizing Drug Abuse, details his very real experience as a high functioning professional whose life is undone by drug use. McCracken cites the high rates of drug use amongst healthcare professionals, first noting their access to illicit materials, second their ability to intellectualize their drug use. Intellectualization differs from rationalization and denial (the latter two are often regarded as common attitudes towards substance abuse, unaffected by education or training) in that it relies upon training and knowledge. McCracken was a biomedical scientist well aware of the criteria required to deem one an addict; careful to stay away from textbook examples of abuse and criminal behavior. This is how the intellectual maintains the illusion of control or mastery. He states:

“The transition from my drug use having no apparent negative consequences, to both my personal and professional life being damaged possibly beyond repair, was so fast as to be instantaneous, highlighting the fact that when it comes to drug use, the perception of control is really nothing more than illusion.”

While intellectualization of drug use seems reasonable, it too is just a theory. Perhaps something as simple as boredom and isolation could provide the answer. Studies have long since linked extremely high IQs and social maladjustment (Factors in the Social Adjustment and Social Acceptability of Extremely Gifted Children, Ohio Psychology Press, 1994). Is it possible that isolation makes one susceptible to substance abuse? If you’re a rat, it does. Researchers at the University of Texas found that isolated rats show greater preference for drug rewards and higher addiction rates than the non-isolated rats. The isolated animals are more sensitive to reward and become more malleable, and more easily addicted than their non-isolated counterparts. While it seems possible that the isolation of those with higher intelligence may create a more dependent mindset, two flaws in this argument arise when using it to explain drug use and high IQs. The loneliness and isolation apparent in gifted children generally appear in those with an IQ of 170+, which is so far outside of the mean that it hardly applies to the data of the British cohort study. Second, we aren’t rats.


If not overconfidence, if not isolation, what drives highly intelligent people towards drug use? Perhaps it is the concept of intelligence that needs to be reconsidered in order to answer the question. IQ does not measure emotional intelligence or creativity. Emotional intelligence was defined and popularized by Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence – Why it can matter more than IQ (1995). It is said to encompass impulse control, perseverance, diligence, motivation, empathy and social skills; the ability, competence, and skill set to cope with challenges and achieve success. There is a significant amount of research linking low emotional intelligence with drug abuse (Low Emotional Intelligence as a Predictor of Substance-use Problems, Journal of Drug Education, 2003). Although there is a tendency to regard a high IQ as a precursor to success and achievement, nowhere within the IQ score is contained the assessment of the ability to make good decisions, or to use common sense. Although low emotional intelligence is linked with drug abuse, the British cohort studies contain no data regarding patterns of drug use and it would be difficult to make a definite link between high IQ, low emotional intelligence and drug use and/or abuse.

IQ does not measure emotional intelligence or creativity. Nor does it measure cultural impact on learning, adaptation, or identity. Critics of IQ testing note the lack of cultural variability within the tests. While the tests are meant to serve as a tool for assessing intelligence across all cultures, the disparity in scores between ethnic groups cannot be explained without adding the element of culture. We are complex organisms, we live in an interdependent world. To isolate intelligence from other factors is to alter reality. We learn holistically. Our intelligence is elastic and works when there is an environment for it to work within. While the data may be statistically significant, and those who score higher on standard ability tests are more likely to use drugs, perhaps we should consider the culture that these novelty seekers exist within. There has been some discussion on culture and drug use, though usually with such a macro lens on society, government policy, and social trends, that more subtle factors are missed.

“Most culturally distinct groups have used and abused alcohol and other drugs throughout the ages, and they have established codes of behavior in their approach to drugs and alcohol” (Culture and Substance Abuse: Impact of Culture Affects Approach to Treatment, Psychiatric Times, 2008).

A culturally distinct group can be a nation, or a culturally distinct group can be motorcycle gang, a rowing team, a gaggle of freaks. Each group has their own codes of behavior and the way to show loyalty to a group is to adhere to that behavior. It is intelligent to adapt. Drug culture of the 1960s would certainly have affected the participants of the 1958 cohort, just as rave culture in the 90s would have an impact on the attitudes of participants of the 1970 cohort. Surely social movements, their celebrities, and use of drugs in popular culture influence the intellectual drug user.

So, whether novelty, intellectualization, isolation, or aestheticization, something drives intelligent people to seek thrills, escape, or identity in illicit substances on a statistically significant basis.

Source | TheFix

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors/source and do not necessarily reflect the position of CSGLOBE or its staff.

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