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What drugs are successful people using?

Updated: Apr 6, 2023

In this week’s blog post in our series examining health and success, we’re looking at drug use. I’m talking caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, cannabis and hard drugs to answer what drugs are successful people using.



Before we get started... let's define wealthy and low-income


Throughout this post wealthy and low-income and similar terms are used. Although studies in different countries and older studies will have different definitions of wealth thresholds, wealthy people and less wealthy/low-income people in the uk are:


Defining wealthy people in the UK:

The top 10% mark and above which starts at around £60,500 in the UK with figures for the top 1% being defined as £160,000.


Defining low-income or less wealthy people in the UK:

Households are classed as being in low income if they live on less than 60% of the average (median) net disposable equivalised UK household income (around 17,500 for a couple in the UK before household expenses)

What I thought going into this:

There is a positive relationship between health and wealth. I thought going into this article wealthier people would have healthier drug habits. Read on for the low down on how successful people use drugs differently from people with lower socio-economic status.


Caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, cannabis and hard drugs


Caffeine:


Caffeine is the most widely used drug in the world and has beneficial effects like anti-depressive properties and mental focus.


The only study I could find examining differences in caffeine use between socioeconomic classes was a study in the Netherlands which showed a similar distribution of use, with the highest proportion belonging to the middle class.


While I didn’t find much data regarding the amount of caffeine consumption among socioeconomic classes, senior managers and high achievers were more likely to drink coffee than tea, especially with clients.


Nicotine:


Smokers are much more likely to be from lower-income backgrounds and the more disadvantaged someone is, the more likely they are to smoke and suffer from related diseases and premature death.

In the UK there is a tendency for wealthy people to smoke tends to be more restricted to social situations or on occasion, whereas less wealthy people are more likely to abuse cigarettes, vapes, or chew tobacco. Wealthier smokers are also more likely to use nicotine aids like gum or patches however this may not be because of social inequality, but rather because by region the North of England smokes more than the South.


Generational habits and social norms seem to be a better predictors of nicotine addiction than socio-economic status.


Alcohol:


Across the pond, Americans with higher education levels and higher incomes are more likely to drink to excess. For example, a US Gallop poll found 81% of people earning more than $75,000 a year drank as oppose to the 46% of workers with salaries less than $20,000 and in the UK the trend continues, The Guardian found wealthy professionals were most likely to drink regularly in the UK.


Studies have shown that those who consume more than 5 drinks a day have a significantly higher risk of death than those who consume less than one drink a day. This contradicts what we learned before about wealthier people being healthier, however, it’s important to remember alcohol consumption is only one element of health.


Alcohol and life expectancy have an interesting relationship where one-two drinks a day tends to lead to longer lives while more than this has a negative slope (see graph below).



Cannabis:


Cannabis (weed) has quickly become one of the most popular drugs in America. Weed use four times or more per week More Americans smoke weed than cigarettes. Users who spend fully one-quarter of their income on weed account for 15 per cent of all weed use, indicating those with a lower income tend to smoke more. In America, young, male, Black, and Native American individuals and individuals with low educational attainment and income were more likely to engage in higher frequency use.



In the US, especially in legal states, there is a difference between a wealthier cannabis consumer and a low-income cannabis consumer. Cannabis is marketed as a healthy substance to wealthier people. Wealthy people in the USA tend to turn to weed because they believe it will help their short-term problems and health ailments. It’s different to the type of “stoner” the public generally depicted. People in lower income brackets only have lower quality options available so therefore that's what they buy. It's like buying a McDonald's hamburger instead of a gourmet hamburger with grassfed beef.



There is contradicting evidence on whether weed use is correlated with success or poor outcomes, likely due to the quality difference I just mentioned. There are studies like this 2017 study on California which shows cannabis users earn more than abstainers and other studies that show weed use at least 4 days per week, is associated with neurocognitive deficits and poor educational and other social outcomes, especially in adolescents and young adults.


A more recent 2022 study from the University of Cambridge showed weed users were no less motivated than non-weed users. The back and forth on health and motivation with weed users has changed in a positive direction as the substance has become more widely used and legalised in many places which likely adds a social benefit and reduces the risk of impure substances in weed.


Hard drugs:


There have not been many studies on the effects of prosperity on a person's likelihood of becoming addicted, access is a major factor for wealthier children. Wealthier children have greater access to hard drugs and are more likely to become addicted when they begin abusing substances.


Both wealthy and non-wealthy people can be at risk of addiction due to certain personality risk factors such as risk-taking, a strong success drive, dedication, obsession, and novelty- or adventure-seeking.


It’s these personality traits and other factors like mental illness that play a role in hard drug use as opposed to factors like wealth, however, there are some groups more likely to use drugs than others. For example, in the United Kingdom, hard drugs are mostly used by the middle class indicating a social element to hard drugs that take place during middle-class activities.


What drugs are successful people using?


In summary... pretty much all of them in various combinations. Socio-economic status isn’t the best predictor of whether someone is more likely to use drugs, but seems to be a good indicator for drugs as to whether they’ll have to pay the consequences later on.


When it comes down to it, drugs are things a lot of people enjoy because of the short-term relief they bring to different problems. If a glass of wine or a cup of coffee is something you enjoy, enjoy it knowing it is statistically going to benefit you long term, especially if enjoyed with people you like.


What I took away from this is less wealthy people aren’t doing as many drugs as you think, at least not much different in proportion to those who are rich or middle class (and in the case of alcohol, people in lower income brackets even drink less). It made me think about stereotypes surrounding homeless people, with lines like “Don’t give money because they’ll spend it on drugs” front of my mind. Sure they might buy drugs, but rich people, whether they’ve earned their money or not, spend their money on drugs too, we just don’t judge them as harshly for it.


Enjoyed this post?


Thanks for reading. Hope you learned something new you can use to get you closer to happiness. Next week we’ll be exploring the relationship habits of successful people.


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