Why are intelligent people more likely to abuse drugs?

The downsides of drug abuse are so clear that one would imagine smarter folks would stay away from them. The research suggests otherwise.

  • Numerous studies have confirmed the link between intelligence and substance abuse.
  • However, the mechanism for this correlation has been difficult to pin down.
  • Why would more intelligent people who should ostensibly know better practice such a risky habit?

No mathematician has ever published more papers than Paul Erdos. The 20thcentury mathematician was brilliant, eccentric, and prolific, publishing a record 1,525 papers. By the age of four, Erdos could calculate the number of seconds someone had lived if they gave him their age. He contributed to a wide variety of mathematical disciplines, including discrete mathematics, probability theory, Ramsey theory, graph theory, and others. He worked 19-hour days. And he loved amphetamines.

When Ronald Graham, a concerned friend and fellow mathematician, bet him $500 that he couldn’t stay off his drug of choice for a month, Erdos accepted and easily won the challenge. When the 30 days was up, Erdos said to Graham, “You’ve showed me I’m not an addict. But I didn’t get any work done. I’d get up in the morning and stare at a blank piece of paper. I’d have no ideas, just like an ordinary person. You’ve set mathematics back a month.” Erdos resumed taking amphetamines and did so for every day of his life until his death 17 years later.

Numerous studies have documented the relationship between intelligence and substance abuse. This relationship should be a negative one. After all, recreational drugs can damage your health, addiction costs huge amounts of money, and the legal consequences can be dire. But in fact, intelligence and substance abuse have a positive relationship: intelligent individuals are more likely to abuse drugs than less intelligent individuals.

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