Why People With Above Average Intelligence Are More Likely to have A Drug Addiction and Mental Illness

“Affecting some 2.5 percent of the U.S. population, bipolar disorder alone has touched many of our greatest achievers, including Vincent Van Gogh, Buzz Aldrin, Emily Dickinson, and Ernest Hemingway” (Taite, 2015).

Wondering how that well brought up and super smart friend ever got started on what is now a drug or alcohol addiction?  Have you ever listened to the “delusional” thoughts and beliefs of someone with schizophrenia and thought to yourself, “Hey, these ‘delusional’ thoughts don’t seem that far out there to me”?  How about a person with bipolar, while in a manic phase?  And what is up with all of these kids being abundantly diagnosed with ADHD?

It has been well established that environmental and genetic factors contribute to addiction and mental illness.  There is another hidden factor which is an important dynamic to be considered for people who struggle with addiction and mental illness.

People who are more intelligent than average are at increased risk for drug and alcohol use and addiction.  “In fact, the correlation is so strong scientists say the inverse is true: People of lower intelligence are the least likely to drink or use drugs” (Mientka, 2014).

Why?  Why would smart people put things into their body knowing that it could cause a chemical dependence?  One answer is curiosity.  The need to think outside of the box overrides fear and caution.

“Now, scientists have identified a biomolecular connection between curiosity as a trait and intelligence in general, as evidenced by a 2009 study in Neuron from researchers at the University of Toronto and the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital. Specifically, the neuronal calcium center-1 protein was associated in a mouse model with spatial memory and curiosity. Interestingly, that same protein has been linked in humans to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia” (Mientka, 2014).

Speaking of thinking out side of the box.  Most highly successful and famous people who have schizophrenia excel in music.

Nobel Prize winner John Forbes Nash arrives to the 74th Annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles, California

John Nash

Unlike the others, famous mathematician and Nobel peace prize winner John Nash inspired the 2001 film A Beautiful Mind.  Nash endured a 30 year battle with schizophrenia.

“Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder are the 3 conditions that develop most frequently in vulnerable individuals… Clinical evidence points to a common neurodevelopmental origin for all three. Similar results have also been seen in recent genetic studies” (Pediaditakis, 2014)


John Watson

Nobel Peace Prize winner John Watson contributed to understanding the structure of DNA.  He is a highly successful and world renowned molecular biologist and geneticist who was pegged to be a genius from his teenage years, though he didn’t think that he was.  John Watson has a son, Rufus, who has schizophrenia.  Did Rufus Watson’s “delusional” ramblings contribute to any of John Watson’s work and ideas?

“…creative geniuses envision new and comprehensively applicable paradigms of nature’s workings. They bypass our evolutionary limits of comprehension and invent ways to access the mathematical arrangement of nature, thereby conceiving, for example, quantum mechanics. Although often exhibiting a learned civility, these individuals may nevertheless be deficient in understanding the algorithms that help us perceive and comprehend the emotional gestalt, state of mind, and intentions needed for social interaction” ( Pediaditakis, 2014).

And then there is this over diagnosed ADHD epidemic.  Why are so many children being diagnosed?  One answer is that gifted children (children who are more intelligent than average) tend to get an ADHD referral and diagnosis through their school system.  When a child acts out, is disruptive, or does not complete school work, it is important to solve the problem quickly (find medication) to maintain smooth operation of the classroom.  Measuring intelligence level and other factors is more time consuming and requires more effort.

gifted-children-and-addiction-mental-illness-high-intelligence-adhd-step-up-with-meChildren who are gifted are misdiagnosed with ADHD because they are board and seek a fulfillment that they may not understand.  They seek to fill a void.

“These individuals are to various degrees less social, more self-centered, and aloof. They may exhibit remarkable “learned” affability and civility, but they are, to various degrees, inner-directed, autonomous, and deficient in empathy and connectedness. They tend to “think” the world rather than “feel” it… They are often dysphoric and tend to feel an “inner void, and aloneness within. (Pediaditakis, 2014)”

Here are a few well known geniuses who are thought to have suffered from addiction and mental illness.

Gifted or Ill?


Emily Dickenson American poet 1800’s Alcohol abuse Manic depression Bipolar Anxiety Possible paranoia


Albert Einstein famous scientist late 1800’s early 1900’s chronic cocaine use possibly autism or Asperger’s


American Author and Journalist Nobel Peace Prize 1900’s Alcoholism Manic depression Bipolar


Buzz Aldrin One of the first American’s to walk on the moon in 1960’s Alcoholism Depression


neurologist, physiologist, medical Dr., founder of the study of psychoanalytic school of psychology, late 1800’s – early 1900’s cocaine depression


Vincent Van Gogh, Famous artist, 1800’s, Alcoholism, Depression, Anxiety, bipolar

Agree?  Disagree?  What are your thoughts?  Comment below or let me know what you think on Instagram, Facebook, or twitter.

Feel free to like and share this article.  More like this are coming soon.



Drugabuse.com editors. (2016). 20 Genius minds and the drugs they were addicted to. Drugabuse.com. Retreived from http://drugabuse.com/20-genius-minds-and-the-drugs-they-were-addicted-to/

Mientka, M. (2014). Why smarter people are more likely to be mentally ill. Medicaldaily.com. Retrieved from http://www.medicaldaily.com/why-smarter-people-are-more-likely-be-mentally-ill-270039

Pediaditakis, N. (2014). The association between major mental disorders and geniuses.  Psychiatrictimes.com. Retrieved from http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/major-depressive-disorder/association-between-major-mental-disorders-and-geniuses/

Taite, R. (2015). Is there a link between intelligence and mental illness? Many times the eccentric tendencies of genius are associated with mental illness. Psychology today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/ending-addiction-good/201503/is-there-link-between-intelligence-and-mental-illness


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