Trusted Content

Intelligence And Addiction: Is There A Correlation?

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

March 6, 2019

An individual’s level of intelligence in regard to both emotional intelligence and IQ can help determine an individual’s tendency to abuse drugs or alcohol and, ultimately, become addicted.

When most people talk about intelligence, they are referring to the intelligence quotient (IQ). Based on a series of standardized tests covering subjects like short-term memory and spatial visualization, the IQ measures how smart someone is on paper (“book smarts”).

There is another form of intelligence that is often overlooked: emotional intelligence. This measures how well people relate to others (“street smarts”) and is harder to quantify. Nevertheless, emotional intelligence has a great deal to do with how successful people are in life.

Intelligence Quotient (IQ) And Addiction

Surprisingly, studies have found that people with higher childhood IQs are more likely to abuse alcohol and illicit drugs in adulthood. This is contrary to popular belief that intelligent people are educated enough to know the risks and smart enough not to take them.

There are a number of reasons that someone with a high IQ may turn to substance abuse:

  • Boredom: Intelligent people are often not challenged by everyday life. They may find their jobs or schoolwork to be too simple. This can lead to a sense of meaninglessness that may cause someone to use drugs or alcohol either to fill the void or elicit some excitement out of life.
  • Curiosity: When people are bored, they look for interesting ways to spend their time. Trying new things is a way to expand the mind and learn more about the world, and an intelligent person may view drugs or alcohol as an exciting new way to fulfill their sense of boredom.
  • Creativity: Some drugs, like hallucinogens, cause people to experience the world in unique and bizarre ways. This has led some people to write songs and create artwork they wouldn’t have otherwise made. Also, drugs and alcohol can lower inhibitions, making a person feel more free to unleash their creativity.
  • Stimulation Seeking: A study of children who sought high stimulation at age three found that they were likely to have a higher IQ than their peers by age 11. Further research concludes that people with high IQs tend to seek stimulation, and they may turn to drug use when normal life is not stimulating enough.
  • Disconnect: People who are educated about the risks of substance abuse may believe that they can control the adverse effects. They may feel that they are too smart to become addicted or that it simply won’t happen to them.
  • Racing Thoughts: People with high IQs think a lot and may have trouble sleeping because their thoughts won’t stop racing. Alcohol and some drugs can slow brain function and calm the body, making it easier to relax and fall asleep.
  • Social Isolation: Highly intelligent people sometimes have difficulty relating to others. They can be awkward in social interactions, making it hard for them to form friendships and romantic relationships. Substance abuse may dull the discomfort they feel around others or the loneliness they feel when they are alone.

Not all people with high IQs experience all of these things, nor do they all abuse drugs or alcohol. Some of these reasons for substance abuse may not even result from a high IQ, but from low emotional intelligence.

IQ is a person’s ability to learn, while emotional intelligence is their ability to regulate emotions and recognize emotional cues from others. The two do not have a definite negative correlation — it is not a given that people with high IQs have low emotional intelligence or visa versa.

virtual care

Get treatment when
and how you need it.

Emotional Intelligence And Addiction

Many people do not realize that an individual’s emotional intelligence is just as important as their IQ. Emotional intelligence is what helps people connect. It fuels friendships, customer service, and business relations.

While education and IQ are important in many aspects of life, it can be hard to be successful without emotional intelligence. In fact, low emotional intelligence can lead to many social and psychological issues.

A study of substance abuse and mental health reports that “…many social harms such as suicide, drug addiction, criminal behavior and mental disorders are resulted from low self-esteem, inability to express the feelings and lack of assertiveness as well as lack of communication skills.”

This study found that people with low emotional intelligence were more unstable than those with high emotional intelligence. Mental instability makes people more prone to developing mental disorders, such as addiction. It also makes them more likely to abuse substances in the first place as a way of dealing with their problems.

High emotional intelligence helps people navigate relationships in order to have their needs met and to meet the needs of others. Their ability to regulate their own emotions allows them to cope with stress in a healthy way. People with low emotional intelligence are not skilled at maintaining emotional calm or feeling and expressing empathy for others.

These people often have a hard time engaging in social situations and developing relationships, which can hinder them personally and professionally. Isolation, disconnection, and financial struggles can cause significant stress in someone’s life that may lead them to seek relief from substance abuse, which can quickly escalate into addiction.

Find Freedom From Addiction

Regardless of how intelligent someone is when they begin abusing drugs or alcohol, addiction can destroy their mind and body. Overcoming this debilitating mental disorder isn’t easy to do alone, but many addiction treatment programs offer constant support and comprehensive care.

Addiction treatment programs often use behavioral therapy to reframe thoughts and behavior so a person can make healthier choices. They may also improve emotional intelligence by fostering positive relationships and teaching life skills, coping skills, and stress management techniques. Some programs use unique methods like adventure therapy to encourage positive stimulation.

Contact us for more information on intelligence, addiction, and treatment options.

Annals of Epidemiology - Intelligence quotient in childhood and risk of illegal drug use in middle age

BMJ Journals - Intelligence across childhood in relation to illegal drug use in adulthood

Want to get help, but not ready to talk?

You can receive 24/7 text support right away and at your convenience. There is no obligation to enter treatment and you can opt out at any time.

Sign up for text support to receive:

✅ Resources about addiction and recovery

✅ Info about our treatment process

"*" indicates required fields


Let Regard Healthcare walk you through the treatment process. We're here to help.
For 24/7 Treatment Help
100% Free and Confidential. Call 888-341-4325

For 24/7 Treatment Help Call:


For Immediate Treatment Help Call:
(888) 979-9592