I’m pissed off about an article in Psychology Today that suggests smarter people consume more alcohol. As someone who’s sober, the article is kind of insulting. After all, I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person.
Here’s a snippet from the article by Satoshi Kanazawa:
Drinking alcohol is evolutionarily novel, so the Hypothesis would predict that more intelligent people drink more alcohol than less intelligent people.
Human consumption of alcohol, however, was unintentional, accidental, and haphazard until about 10,000 years ago. The intentional fermentation of fruits and grain to yield ethanol arose only recently in human history. The production of beer, which relies on a large amount of grain, and that of wine, which similarly requires a large amount of grapes, could not have taken place before the advent of agriculture around 8,000 BC and the consequent agricultural surplus. Archeological evidence dates the production of beer and wine to Mesopotamia at about 6,000 BC. The origin of distilled spirits is far more recent, and is traced to Middle East or China at about 700 AD. The word alcohol – al kohl – is Arabic in origin, like many other words that begin with “al,” like algebra, algorithm, alchemy, and Al Gore.
Indicators of alcohol consumption in the Add Health data include the frequency of binge drinking (drinking five or more units of alcohol in one sitting) and the frequency of getting drunk. That such behavior is detrimental to health and has few, if any, positive consequences, is irrelevant for the Hypothesis. It does not predict that more intelligent individuals are more likely to engage in healthy and beneficial behavior. Instead, it predicts that more intelligent individuals are more likely to engage in evolutionarily novel behavior. Since the consumption of modern alcoholic beverages – including binge drinking and getting drunk – is evolutionarily novel, the Hypothesis would predict that more intelligent individuals are more likely to engage in it, and the empirical data from the UK and the US confirm it.
His hypothesis pisses me off because there are days when I hate being sober. I’d give anything for a few drops of wine, for that mellow feeling I get after a couple glasses.
It’s also been drilled into my head that addiction isn’t about being smart or stupid. The perfect description comes from this “West Wing” episode where Leo, the chief of staff, tries to explain what alcohol does to him:
As Leo says, his brain works differently. It has nothing to do with being smart or stupid.
Nevertheless, there are days where my addictions make me feel supremely stupid. It has certainly compelled me to do stupid things in the past.
To be fair, the article doesn’t really say that only smart people drink a lot. Reading it just pisses me off because I can’t drink anymore.
I can’t eat flour or sugar anymore. Lots of smart people love those two ingredients.
I can’t smoke anymore. Lots of smart people smoke.
I won’t lie: I used to think I looked very smart and sophisticated with a cigar hanging from my lips.
Some would call that stupid. Whatever.
The bottom line is that I can’t drink or do the other things anymore. It’s not because I lack intelligence. It’s because that intelligence is powerless against the mental impulse that screams out for a good feeling; for a break.
Mine is a particularly strange tale of addiction. My biggest problem was compulsive binge eating. My drinking accelerated after I put the flour and sugar down because I needed a crutch. Then I realized I needed the wine a little too much, so I put that down and started on the cigars for a crutch.
Now I don’t smoke anymore, and there are days where I struggle to find a good release. Yoga doesn’t do it for me. As Erin points out, yoga could do it for me, but I’m prejudiced against it. Fair enough.
Moderation doesn’t exist in my world. It’s all or nothing.
That doesn’t make me dumb. But it might mean I’m a victim of dumb luck.