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Intelligence and its relation to addiction

A new longitudinal study into the relationship between measured levels of intelligence, and addiction shows a marked tendency toward more addiction behavior among those with higher IQs -- twice as much for men, and a three times greater likelihood among women. Also a look at new research on brain physiology and its relation to pain.

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Transcript (edited):

HOWARD:     Welcome to the CNS Podcast featuring Dr. Darryl Inaba, research director for CNS Productions, I am Howard La Mere. Here is an interesting story from the last week based on a multi-year study conducted in England.  It was published in the Journal of Epidemiological and Community Health and reported that higher IQ’s resulted in greater drug use as a consistent pattern.  We were talking about that just before we started recording - I’ll bet you have some interesting perceptions on that through the years.

DARRYL:        Howard, this report is very validating.  It’s what I’ve been saying, I think throughout my career that those of us who work with addicts are just stunned by the high level of intelligence found in this group. Addicts are very intelligent. There was preliminary IQ testing conducted by Dr. Len O’Connor, someone I worked with in San Francisco and we found the IQ of addicts routinely tested higher than the IQ of non-user or non-addicts or non-dependent users of drugs.  The group called Mensa, the organization of geniuses in the country that score 140 or higher on IQ tests and represent about the top 2% intellectual capacity of this nation.  I don’t think we ever found another group of people so defined as a group who had a higher rate of addiction and alcoholism than card-carrying members of Mensa.  So, addiction seems to run amuck in the group who are much more intelligent and intelligence is a potential liability that a person is going to develop addictive disease.

HOWARD:     And we always thought of it as a good thing.

DARRYL:        Well, I think it is a good thing.  It’s just that….

HOWARD:     It has its complications.

DARRYL:        It could be that the same changes in the brain - differences or anomalies  - that make a person vulnerable to addiction also endows that person with a much greater degree of intelligence, awareness and innovation and willingness to think outside the box.  and their brain is hijacked by these substances that activate the addictive pathway of the brain, also endows that person with a much greater degree of intelligence, awareness and innovation and willingness to think outside the box.  Now the interesting thing about this study is that it was a longitudinal study, which is very rare in medicine because it is so expensive to continue to test people over long periods of time, but as reported in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the British researchers first tested thousands of subjects on their intelligence and questioned them on their use of drugs and alcohol when they were only 5 and 10 years old.  Then as a follow up, they tracked them throughout the years and at the age of 16 or so, they interviewed the same kids and looked at the incidence of drug use as well as stress and psychological problems and continued to follow them until these kids were 30 years of age and evaluated them again.  Their findings were stunning to them and stunning to a lot of people who still stigmatize addicts as being stupid or crazy or weak or bad or amoral. The researches found that in men, those who tested high intelligence, testing anywhere from 107 to 158 or above, versus those who were average or below average intelligence at 100 or less, had twice the rate of being an addict or an alcoholic by the age of 30, and women were 3 times more vulnerable…3 times more likely to be an addict or an alcoholic.  The study projected that the propensity for addiction was probably due to the brain’s boredom or the need for innovation, to try something new, to experience different things that led these very intelligent people into a liberal use of drugs and therefore the potential for addiction.  I have always speculated that it probably also has to do with a sort of arrogance, a sort of cockiness.  Very intelligent people can’t believe or are in great denial that any drug could take possession of their mind and continue to influence them to the point where they expose themselves to drugs despite the catastrophic consequences.  They probably bought the hype on the street that addicts are less intelligent, so they felt, well, I’m pretty sharp here so I can keep myself out of trouble.  I’m not going to get addicted without accepting the fact that this is a neurochemical and neuro-cellular condition that starts off in the unconscious, unintelligent, nonspeaking (area.)  The absolutely nonintellectual brain is where the compulsivity starts within the limbic  system and especially the go-switch nuculus accumbens.  So if they fail to recognized that or if they didn’t know about that, they may assume that they’re too smart to get addicted.  They’re not going to be like the dumb kids who get addicted.  They’re going to enjoy the marijuana and the alcohol and maybe even heroin and cocaine and be able to cease their use of it if any kind of problems develop, which is not the case with addiction.

HOWARD:     It seems like a lot of what we’re discussing lately has to do with the amazing advances in our understanding of brain chemistry and brain physiology, that fly in the face of what we assume to be the case.  It turns out that frequently it is exactly the opposite.  And, so I’m not clear on these male/female numbers here.  Do they indicate that men are more likely than women to become addicted?  And the other thing I wanted clarity on, is the variety of drugs, right - they weren't very specific.

DARRYL:        They studied all drug categories, and didn’t tease out whether or not it was a certain type of intelligence at a certain level that made you more prone to be a cocaine addict or meth addict or heroin addict.  They just noted that a higher degree of intelligence led to more drug addiction … by age 30, regardless of the drug used. By gender, the key factor again was intelligence and men who scored above a 107 to 158 compared to their cohorts who scored 100 or less, those intelligent men were twice as likely to have an addiction or drug problem by the age of 30 as compared to the lower intelligent men.  When it came to women, intelligence was more of a liability because women were 3 times more likely by age 30 to have an addiction problem if they scored in the 107 to 158 range of IQ as compared to their cohorts who scored less than 100 or 100.  And so, it means, if you look at gender, intelligent women are absolutely more likely to develop addiction as compared to men.  But even if you look at just men, men are twice as likely, so that’s a huge variation.  That means that intelligence is a key factor, that may show that you have a vulnerability to develop addiction, possibly because … addiction pathways also endow a person with more intelligence. There are also social and psychological factors involved with being more intelligent and being more cocky or experiencing more boredom in your life, which creates a need to seek out more innovative and novelty situations.  But whatever the case … this does validate what, not only myself and Dr. Len O’Connor believed - but many people who work with addicts and alcoholics have been saying throughout their careers, that addicts and alcoholics are among our most intelligent and our most innovative Americans.

HOWARD:     Now is there anything in particular that we know about brain functions or any new related science that has emerged?

DARRYL:        Well, the only thing that they’re looking at is the role of the amygdala , looking at the role of the hippocampus, which are both your memory circuitries or your memory cortices.  The amygdala encodes emotional memories and the hippocampus is involved as well as encoding short-term memories.  And looking at their activity, maybe the strength of their receptors.  They’re looking at serotonin, other chemicals in that process how to influence both intelligence, memory and also how prone a person is to become an addict or an alcoholic.

HOWARD:     This brings up something we were talking about before in terms of the relationship between things we do that are pleasurable and things that we do to combat pain.  There is a story in the Wall Street Journal today about the way the brain is wired and addresses pain.  A lot of this study has to do with mind/body relationships.  Of course, we’ve talked about mind/body relationships in the addiction context.  So, I don’t know what the relationship is there other than the fact that everything’s related.

DARRYL:        That story was interesting to me in that I didn’t realize there were so many different parts of the brain, different cortices, different circuitries that are involved with a person’s perception of pain and how strong it is. Even when experienced for the first time.  I don’t feel that pain itself is a major… is a major factor leading to addiction.  We do know that people who experience unavoidable stress as a young person, are often more prone to drug addiction because they’re reliving the pain of that experience throughout their whole life and find that drugs can temporarily absolve that feeling.  But I still think addiction goes way beyond just the relief of pain because I have several clients who ended up in recovery with a chronic painful condition, like a cancer or some sort of arthritic condition, who were terrified of taking prescription pain medication because that was their drug of choice and true to form - many of them became addicted as soon as they were put back on a prescription opiate drug.  They were willing to deal with the pain in order to save up their medication to activate their addiction.  So….

HOWARD:     Get to the pleasure.

DARRYL:        Right, or just, you know, relief of pain.  Is it pleasure or maybe it’s an unconscious drive, a survival need that hijacks the brain addiction pathway of those who are prone toward addiction.  But what I liked about the Wall Street Journal article was its presentation of new approaches to pain treatment - the introduction of  innovative and complimentary processes that don't rely on the prescription opiates.  When we work with chronic pain patients … my clinic has a chronic pain group and it’s a big sub-specialty now in addiction treatment in Oregon.  You can even get certification for drug and alcohol counseling with a specialty in chronic pain in addicts.  Addicts are like other people - they are going to experience pain.  They are going to experience situations where they may need to be treated.  An addict has a sensitivity towards developing a pain medication addiction right away, so they must be treated in many, many different ways and with a lot more control over managing pain so they don't activate their need to take a drug for that survival addiction process.  And one of the things I’ve done with the group - once I drew out a whole Sudoku puzzle and had them copy it and all work on solving the puzzle. It seems that if your brain is concentrating on a crossword, Sudoku or something else, you don’t experience the pain.  Another thing I do is eliminate all talk of pain after they checked in and comment on their pain level that night or their stress level. Because we know that stress and pain are related.  So after check in - no more pain talk. Many researchers have found that the more you commiserate and talk and complain about pain, the greater than pain becomes.

HOWARD:     Because you focus on it.

DARRYL:        Yes, if you don’t focus on it and you ignore it, that’s great.  And the third thing is stress.  Managing stress by doing cognitive behavioral work, doing the manageable feelings tables and how people deal with those issues in their life, which are causing them strains. Dealing with the resentments, the insecurities, the phobias, and fears, also helps relieve pain effectively.  I think mindfulness meditation, cognitive behavior therapy and things that are mentioned in this article are shown to reduce the pain by up to 50 or 60% of the pain.

HOWARD:     Which is quite significant.

DARRYL:        It’s great and sure beats the heck out of Vicodin and Oxycontin and methadone for the pain, so I thought it was a good article and hopefully it can help people who are suffering from pain find new ways to deal with it.

HOWARD:     We’ve talked about pain and how it precipitates this prescription drug problem that we are seeing.

DARRYL:        The deaths now… I think there were 15,000 deaths last year  -  outnumbering the number of car accident deaths we had in the United States, which is really telling something.

HOWARD:     Its always fascinating to explore emerging scientific ideas and it’s a pleasure to share them.  We will talk about this more as it continues to evolve.

DARRYL:        One more thing, Howard, I was driving over here while listening to our NPR station and they were interviewing a doctor about seasonal affective disorder. Working with my clients at this time reminds me of the holiday blues … and the need to address that again in another podcast, because it definitely is something that undermines sobriety.

HOWARD:     Right and increased darkness has something to do with that too.  Okay well, until the next time, stay in the light!  That wraps our pod for today.  Thanks for visiting and if you have comments, questions or suggestions drop us an email info@cnsproductions.com.  Please check back soon for the next in the series.

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