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Are Gifted Teens at Greater Risk of Taking Drugs?

By Patrick Bailey.

Addiction and substance abuse still are common problems in most countries today, especially the young, and the gifted.

A person, at any age, can be influenced to take prohibited drugs, to overuse or misuse prescribed drugs and abuse other substances, too, such as alcohol. Teenagers by percentage are at greater risk of drug use and addiction compared to other age groups. This alarms authorities who call for more studies and research all over the world to determine the main causes of drug use and dependency among youths.

According to the report Monitoring the Future: National Results on Adolescent Drug Use 2013, alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana—in that order—were the most commonly abused drugs by adolescents. By the time of the 2018 report, more than 43 percent of 12th-grade students had already used marijuana, and more than 58 percent had already taken drank alcoholic beverages.

Use of illicit drugs aside from marijuana was lower—just under 19 percent of 12th-grade students—because of the greater risk of overdose and death.

A 2011 study conducted by James White of Cardiff University concluded that children with a higher IQ are more susceptible to use illegal drugs when they reach adulthood than those with average or lower intelligence level.

Based on their data samples, women with the highest IQ level tend to use marijuanaand cocaine while men with the most elevated intelligence quotient are prone to using ecstasy and amphetamine.

Common Causes

Among the many factors that can lead the highly gifted and intelligent teens to drug addiction are:

1) External Influences. Depictions of drug use in the media—television, newspapers, magazines, social media sites, and others, all available on one device or digital screen—means teenagers may view substance abuse and illegal drugs as more common and acceptable to their community.This may increase their interest in experimenting themselves.

2) Parents. Many of these intelligent children grew up with parents who were already dependent on prohibited substances, drinking alcohol, or smoking. Familiarity with these addictive materials makes it more likely they will become users and abusers themselves when they grow up.

3) Peer Pressure. Another factor is peer pressure: when teens are influenced by their acquaintances or others in the same age groups to do something. Peer pressure can take the form of bad information, a dare, bragging, a supposed joke, or bullying.

4) Social Behavioral Disturbances, Mental Health Issues, and Traumatic Experiences. Many researchers and neuroscientists claim that children or teens with a higher IQ are more likely to experience drug or alcohol addiction. Many types of addiction come hand in hand with a variety of mental issues such as anxiety and depression either as a cause or effect of drug dependency. This is because, most number of intellectual children fails to develop a social relationship as well as social acceptance with their friends, colleagues, or even with their parents and family members.

5) Social isolation. According to the study Academic Giftedness and Alcohol Use in Early Adolescence, gifted teens have the challenge of nurturing their distinct potentials while at the same time attaining social acceptance within a peer culture which desires conformity and doesn't value intelligence. Because they can't vent their feelings and frustrations to this group, severe or extreme emotions might result in an anxiety disorder or depression. To cope, they may engage in illegal drug use.

6) Mental Health Issues. Teens with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or other mental disorders, which can be hereditary, also are prone to abusing prohibited drugs and alcohol. In addition, behavioral issues triggered by adolescence may be caused, triggered or exacerbated by alcohol and drug use and lead to dependence.

7) Trauma. Childhood or even recent traumatic experiences also can lead a teenager to develop a substance use disorder. Drugs, illegal or misused, have the ability to divert and distract from these hurtful memories, even if only for a short span of time, and create a lighter if delusional feeling for the user. This feeling encourages the traumatized teens to aggressively and repeatedly use these substances to escape the pain, leading to dependency and severe addiction. Trauma is a very serious matter that should be dealt with immediately by a qualified medical or psychological practitioner before it results in alcohol or drug dependency.

8) Dual Diagnosis. Drug use doesn't solve the problem of trauma. It only delays treatment of the real problem and creates an additional problem: dependency or addiction, sometimes followed by overdose and death. When someone has an addiction and a mental disorder at the same time, it is called a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders. It is a common and frequently undiagnosed condition. Unless both are treated, relapse is almost inevitable.

9) Short-Term Pleasure. Even if intelligent youths aren't bothered by their lack of traditional teen social activities and camaraderie, they still may suffer from various life frustrations and need an outlet, an escape, a pleasurable safety valve to relieve the pressure of built-up emotions, anxieties, and frustrations. Since many illegal or abused drugs are designed to reduce anxiety or pain and induce euphoria, these teens become easy targets for the promise of a happy pill.

10) Novelty. People with higher IQs are generally more open to new experiences, are more inclined to make evidence-based risk assessments, and know that not everybody who uses drugs becomes an addict. Like with Russian roulette, however, substance abuse is still not risk-free.

11) Boredom. A close relative of novelty is boredom. One problem faced by scholastically high-achieving teens is coping with the dullness of classroom lessons that also have to educate less brilliant students. As a result, they become vulnerable to the lure of illicit drugs which promise to help ease this boredom.

Common Signs and Symptoms

Teenagers and even younger children can easily gain access to drugs and alcohol, especially in the homes of family and friends. That's why keeping a watchful but not oppressive eye on your children is important in order to catch substance abuse as early as possible.

When clever adolescents with good manners both at home or school suddenly become moody, initiate arguments, and suddenly act excessively aggressive or sensitive, it may be a sign that a teen is experiencing denial or an emotional breakdown that is possibly connected to alcohol or drug abuse.

Behavioral Symptoms of Substance Abuse

Knowing the warning signs of alcoholism and drug abuse is important when you’re concerned about a loved one. Any change in behavior or disposition might be a sign, including:

  1. Trouble focusing on schoolwork or other tasks

  2. Loss of interest in favorite hobbies

  3. New friends or no friends

  4. Atypically passive or aggressive behavior

  5. Ignoring responsibilities around the home, school, or work

  6. Money troubles

Physical Symptoms of Substance Abuse

There also may be physical changes associated with drug abuse and alcoholism, such as:

  1. Red eyes or skin

  2. Poor grooming (skincare, haircare, dress)

  3. Slurred speech

  4. Changes in sleeping behavior (more, less, different)

Preventive Measures and Helpful Tips

These signs don't necessarily mean your teens are addicted to drugs or dependent on alcohol, or even abusing them. There can be many reasons for adolescents' behavior, including adolescence. The adolescent brain is still developing and sometimes shows poor judgment, leading to substance abuse.

If there is any history of alcohol or drug dependency within the family, take preventive measures by observing your teen’s behavior. If you suspect abuse, report those behavioral symptoms to a medical expert for proper assistance or advice before the dependency become severe.

If teens are experiencing signs of drug and alcohol abuse, it is important to get help for them immediately. The developing brain can be harmed by heavy drug use in the teens and 20s. If they are abusing but not yet addicted, fast treatment may prevent full-blown addiction.

The first and possibly easiest step is to talk to the teen.If you’re concerned that you’re seeing signs of alcoholism in your teen, be sure to offer a safe environment to approach the subject. You can get help from outside sources to assist with getting them on the right path for their future.

Social support can be very effective in reducing the risk of drug abuse or alcoholism. No matter how intelligent these kids are, they still need moral and social guidance to fully develop confidence, self-esteem, and positive values. Some schools also now offer counseling support for students who encounter difficulty or trouble establishing a healthy social environment.

What Happens in Rehab

The deeper the addiction, the harder it is to quit. It can be painful and even dangerous to go through withdrawal from alcohol and some drugs. Going cold turkey can be deadly even. It is best for teens who suffer from certain types of addiction to immediately find an appropriate rehab facility. The best rehab programs and recovery centers customize treatments that best suit the needs of the patient, usually offering:

  1. Medically supervised detoxification

  2. Staff trained in addiction medicine

  3. Cognitive behavioral therapy

  4. Spiritual counseling

  5. Peer support groups

  6. Nutritionists

  7. Exercise

  8. Followup care

Alcoholism can be especially detrimental to young lives and can have a long-lasting impact on their future. You and your gifted teen do not have to be in this struggle by yourself. There are resources to help you get your teens the help they need.


In summary, teens can be influenced by various external factors regardless of IQ levels. These include environmental influences from people such as parents and peers, behavioral aspects like boredom or isolation, and others. With these causes, a youngster can experience both behavioral as well as physical symptoms that fully indicate the severity of drug dependence and abuse. Because of the increasing number of such abuse, many rehabilitation centers are able to enhance a more strategic approach in helping patients overcome different kinds of addiction.


1 National Institute on Drug Abuse. (Web log post). Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research-Based Guide. Retrieved from

2 White, James and Batty, GD. (November 2011). Intelligence Across Childhood in Relation to Illegal Drug Use in Adulthood: 1970 British Corort Study. Retrieved from

3 Peairs, Kristen, et al. (April 1, 2011). Academic Giftedness and Alcohol Use in Early Adolescence. Retrieved from

4 National Alliance on Mental Illness. (August 2017). Dual Diagnosis. Retrieved from

5 Nicklesburg, Monica. (August 18, 2013). Why are Smart Kids more Likely to do Drugs?. Retrieved from

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1 Comment

I think that it is less, but even if they started abusing a second time, the main thing is to react to it immediately, and to prevent, for example, a disease from developing, so that later you do not have to look at signs your liver is healing

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