There’s new evidence that kids who excel in their class are more likely to smoke cannabis and drink alcohol in their teens.

In a new study that covered 6,059 participants in England, bright children at age 11 tended to have a lower risk of smoking but a higher likelihood of smoking pot and drinking than their less academically gifted counterparts.

The patterns too persisted into their adult years and appeared to refute the growing notion that academic smarts tied to a greater tendency of experimenting for just a brief period, the researchers noted.

Study Findings

Existing research on the link between intelligence and substance yields mixed results. In this new study, the researchers monitored patterns with use of the three different substances from early adolescent to early adult years, collecting these health behaviors starting at age 13 and into ages 19 to 20.

Academic brightness was gauged using results from a national test taken at 11 years of age, assessing aptitude in English, math, as well as science.

The brainy ones were less likely to smoke cigarettes than the less academically gifted ones. However, they were also more than twice as likely to regularly and persistently drink alcohol than their peers, although they tended less to engage in binge drinking.

Clever students too emerged to be 50 percent more likely to use cannabis occasionally and almost twice as likely to use it persistently than those with lower test scores.

Results No Longer Surprising?

The observational study’s results offered no cause-and-effect relationship between achievement in school and substance use. But likely explanations for the results included associations between being brainy and being open to new experiences as well as being in a high-income family, which could translate to easier access to alcohol.

Note, though, that the patterns continued into adulthood.

"[This is] evidence against the hypothesis that high academic ability is associated with temporary experimentation with substance use,” the authors wrote.

Psychologist and Colorado State University associate professor Pat Aloise-Young told CNN that while the results are inconsistent to a degree with previously findings, they are “not entirely surprising” given that teenagers maintain varying views of smokers and drinkers.

The experts, however, believed there should have been greater focus on the higher levels of hazardous drinking among those with lower academic standing.

“[H]azardous drinking is more likely to result in negative consequences such as driving while intoxicated, alcohol-related crimes and injuries and unwanted sexual encounters," she explained.

The findings were discussed in the British Medical Journal Open.

A National Institutes of Health (NIH) report published last December showed that the rate of drug use among high school seniors dropped in the last year by half compared to 12 years ago, or from 9.5 percent in 2004 to 4.8 percent in 2016. The results marked a continuing decline in drug abuse rates in the last decade.

There’s a downward trend in cigarette and alcohol use in the same group too. From nearly 11 percent of seniors smoking half a pack of cigarettes or more daily in 1991, the rate dipped to just 1.8 percent in the report. Only 37.3 percent of the high schoolers also reported having been drunk at least once versus the 53.2 percent who disclosed the same in 2001.

Experts cannot point to a single underlying cause behind the trends but cited the potential role of shifts in general attitude toward these substances.

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