Addiction in Society

Addiction—the thematic malady for our society—entails every type of psychological and societal problem

Why Do Smarter, Healthier, and Richer People Drink Moderately?

Drinkers are smarter, richer, and lead healthier lives
Satoshi Kanazawa
This post is a response to Why Intelligent People Drink More Alcohol by Satoshi Kanazawa

This post does a little house cleaning, as well as making essential points about human existence. In addition to responding to Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa's "Why Intelligent People Drink More Alcohol: More intelligent people are more likely to binge drink and get drunk," I need to correct my previous comment on Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale Medical School.

I confess - per Dr. Kanazawa - I don't get EvPsych.  For me, it is the opposite of psychology, seeking as it does to find heritable explanations for psychological phenomena.  In addition, Dr. Kanazawa's post was just plain wrong.  Despite that, it was at the top of PT's most popular blogs list, it seemed, for months.

It's wrong according to the most basic information we have, from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health:

Who drinks: < High School = 35%; College grads = 68%

Who binge drinks: < HS = 24%; College grads = 23%

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As a percentage of drinkers, 69% of drinkers with less than a HS diploma binge drink, while 34% of college grad drinkers binge drink.

Comparing all levels of education (<HS, HS grad, some college, college grad): college grads have the highest percent of drinkers, the lowest number of bingers.

So, I just don't get where Dr. Kanazawa can assert: "More intelligent people are more likely to binge drink and get drunk."

Then, in a recent post, I said about Dr. Katz: "The best way to get ahead in the addiction field is always to say bad things about substances."  True, I based my statement on this comment by Dr. Katz: "Combining alcohol and caffeine is -- in one word -- crazy. Don't do it! It has an excellent chance of hurting you, and a fairly good chance of killing you."

However, here's what Dr. Katz said about a recent study (by Charles Holahan et al.) which found - like so many others - that moderate drinkers live longer than abstainers:

Indeed, some of the mortality disadvantage seen in nondrinkers is explained by prior problem drinking, or established health problems. But even when all such factors are accounted for, moderate drinking still conferred a net survival advantage.

But this post isn't about Dr. Katz or Dr. Kanazawa.  It's about the fact that moderate drinkers are healthier people than abstainers. One reason for this is that abstainers are likely to have quit drinking because they were alcoholics or because they were less healthy.  And that is only the tip of the iceberg.  Returning to Holahan et al.:

Our findings demonstrate that abstainers were significantly more likely to have had prior drinking problems, to be obese, and to smoke cigarettes than moderate drinkers and scored significantly higher than moderate drinkers on health problems, depressive symptoms and avoidance coping. In addition, abstainers were significantly lower than moderate drinkers on socioeconomic status, physical activity, number of close friends and quality of friend support, and significantly less likely to be married than moderate drinkers. Moreover, all of these factors that were associated with abstention significantly predicted mortality.

Now, recall, the Holahan et al. study controlled for these things, finding:

However, even after adjusting for all covariates, abstainers and heavy drinkers continued to show increased mortality risks of 51 and 45%, respectively, compared to moderate drinkers.

This means (per Dr. Katz): Drinkers, moderate drinkers, have every advantage in life, but even when we control for all of these factors as best we can statistically, alcohol confers life-prolonging advantages (sorry, Women's Christian Temperance Union).

This leaves open two questions.  Why are drinkers' lives as a rule so rich and lively compared with abstainers, and why are better-educated, better-off people more likely to drink moderately?

Briefly, poorer and less well-educated people don't abstain because they can't afford alcohol.  They are, as Dr. Holahan's findings indicate, more likely to smoke, which is pretty darn costly.  And - if money were the determinant - better-off people could afford larger quantities of alcohol on which to binge - which they are less likely to do.

I'm going to cut to the chase.  Better-educated people drink moderately because they have more control of their lives and don't fall as readily for the idea that substances control them.  This is part and parcel of their living better lives - they have more fun, see more people, have more positive activities - all crucial aspects of a fully lived existence.  As I said, I don't get why EvPsych does its all to circumvent these crucial insights into life - and why PT readers eat this ____ up.

P.S.  Here an EvPsych fan explains why there is no inconsistency between better-educated people binge drinking less and smarter people bingeing more!  It turns out that EvPsych is immaculate, like the Pope.  (No wonder I don't get EvPsych.)

Stanton Peele, PhD, JD, is the author of Recover! and developer of the online Life Process Program. He has been a pioneer in the addiction field since publication of Love and Addiction in 1975.

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