On the brain: Binge drinking and intelligence
December 8th, 2010
05:00 PM ET

On the brain: Binge drinking and intelligence

A lot of fascinating discussions about what's going on in your brain - such as the implications of binge drinking, the rise of depression, and the symptoms of concussions - are bubbling this week.

Do intelligent people drink more?

A blog post in Psychology Today claiming that more intelligent people are more likely to binge drink has met with some heated reaction. The author Satoshi Kanazawa wrote in October that "more intelligent children, both in the United Kingdom and the United States, grow up to consume alcohol more frequently and in greater quantities than less intelligent children." The basis of this argument: Data showing correlations between intelligence and drinking.

His explanation is that alcohol consumption is relatively recent in human history, and intelligent creatures seek evolutionarily novel stimuli. In fact, that was also the rationale behind a highly controversial study from earlier this year suggesting that higher IQ is linked to liberalism, atheism, and male sexual exclusivity.

Kanazawa's blog post has come under fire in the Huffington Post and an even more scathing critique in Psychology Today. Psychologist Stanton Peele points out in the Huffington Post that college graduates are the "most likely to drink but the least likely to binge drink," according to a government survey he cites. Education is not the same as intelligence, but the two tend to be associated, he said. And, moderate drinking has been associated with health benefits such as lower cardiovascular risk.

As to whether evolutionary psychology as a whole is "dangerous bull--," as Peele suggests, is perhaps not so clear-cut.

Cleaner, but more depressed

It's no secret that depression is on the rise in America, and one possible explanation is that we're just too clean. Dr. Charles Raison, Emory University psychiatrist and CNNHealth Mental Health Expert, says that our ramped-up hygiene may be getting rid of bacteria that we need to fight inflammation, which can lead to depression. Raison and colleagues wrote about this in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Allergists have also speculated that our society's over-cleanliness has led to a rise in food allergies. Does this mean exposure to outcast microorganisms would help? That remains to be seen.

Not just a head bump

Drowsiness in a high school female athlete may not be a sign of sleep deprivation - it could be a concussion. A study in the Journal of Athletic Training shows that boys and girls say they have distinct symptoms of concussion, Time reports. For the high school guys, concussion symptoms include amnesia and disorientation.

Dentist the menace

If you're terrified of the dentist, you're not alone. A large study of England, Wales and Northern Ireland found that 19 percent of women, but only 10 percent of men, have extreme anxiety when going to the dentist, according to the BBC. If you have a serious fear of getting your teeth fixed and want support, check out Dental Fear Central.

More than luck

Are you destined to get ahead? Making good financial decisions, or doing well at gambling, may come from genetics. You might be getting lucky in the market because of the "warrior gene," which influences how good you are at maximizing value from such decisions, according to a new study in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Nature reports. Apparently, those with the genetic variant MAOA-L make risky calls about 41 percent of the time, but are good at ruling out bad choices. Of course, this is a small and preliminary study in this area. MAOA is called the "warrior gene" because it has been linked to aggression in the past.

soundoff (109 Responses)
  1. meg

    I'm smart, and LOVE to drink....so YES!!!!

    December 8, 2010 at 17:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Daina

      Self-reported intellect + alcoholics!

      December 8, 2010 at 23:03 | Report abuse |
    • Daina

      Why, brimming over with inebriated pride I would hope you post this on FB and REALLY share with the class!

      December 8, 2010 at 23:11 | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      Did they consider that we drink more because we have to deal with stupid people all day?

      December 9, 2010 at 13:33 | Report abuse |
  2. Jamie

    Any smart and intelligent person will say yes to drinking..

    December 8, 2010 at 18:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • diego

      A brain dead person.

      December 8, 2010 at 20:22 | Report abuse |
    • Daina

      Anyone with basic knowledge of the English language would not make inane redundancies such as 'smart and intelligent.'

      December 8, 2010 at 23:06 | Report abuse |
    • JC

      smart: characterized by quickness and ease in learning.
      intelligent: having the capacity for thought and reason especially to a high degree

      December 9, 2010 at 10:17 | Report abuse |
  3. Rei

    I am well educated and have had one drink in my 24 years...?

    December 8, 2010 at 18:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • cnnposter23232323

      Education, psychologist Stanton Peele points out in these publications, is not equivalent to intelligence.

      December 8, 2010 at 18:21 | Report abuse |
    • Daina

      Hence your brain cells are still intact.

      December 8, 2010 at 23:12 | Report abuse |
    • Teeph

      24 years isn't enough time to become well educated. Sorry to be the one to break it to you. Just remember, a decade or two from now, when you're looking back, that you actually thought you KNEW ANYTHING at 24. I promise you, you will LAUGH and laugh and laugh.

      December 9, 2010 at 11:19 | Report abuse |
  4. Tommas

    How about cannabis? That would be far more interesting.

    December 8, 2010 at 18:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • bobby

      they did and they were under the average.

      December 8, 2010 at 19:30 | Report abuse |
    • Tommas

      It doesn't mention "marijuana" or "cannabis" in the article.... unless there is an actual research paper where the supplemental data is listed?

      December 8, 2010 at 19:37 | Report abuse |
    • Daina

      Yes it would however this study focused upon intelligence rather than stupidity...don't worry, the drinkers are not quite that intelligent. 'Magical thinking' makes them more intelligent & fascinating in the drunk world. By that 12th beer you're up for MENSA membership

      December 8, 2010 at 23:10 | Report abuse |
    • Nikki

      The problem with cannabis is that it's associated with people that the researchers (who're looking for work by the way) don't want to consider intelligent. These researchers have nothing better to do but make up nonsensical theories and then try to prove them right just like phrenologists did years ago to make themselves feel superior.

      December 9, 2010 at 09:03 | Report abuse |
  5. Prince Charles

    Yes, we do. It makes all the peasants more tolerable.

    December 8, 2010 at 18:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • becks


      December 8, 2010 at 20:23 | Report abuse |
  6. NaoOkami

    As a person of above average intelligence I will say this. I do not drink, I have never seen a point to it. I'm not even a social drinker. My parents drink as do my friends. I just don't see what the big deal is. Destroying brain cells and giving myself cancer just doesn't seem like the intelligent thing to do.

    December 8, 2010 at 18:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bif

      I will have a drink in your honor

      December 8, 2010 at 19:39 | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Wow, you have single handedly disproved this study. Good job.

      December 8, 2010 at 21:21 | Report abuse |
    • duder

      Beer just tastes good man.

      December 8, 2010 at 21:23 | Report abuse |
    • John

      You sound like a lot of fun

      December 8, 2010 at 21:29 | Report abuse |
    • Daina

      Wow, an intelligent life form amonst the masses.

      December 8, 2010 at 23:14 | Report abuse |
    • Andrewaslfgdgs

      Cancer? You do realize that you don't get cancer from drinking right?

      December 9, 2010 at 08:54 | Report abuse |
    • Tommas

      Yes you can get cancer from ethanol..... Please do not allow yourself to be brainwashed by corporations

      December 9, 2010 at 10:02 | Report abuse |
    • Ohnoes

      Saying drinking can cause cancer is like saying brushing your teeth fights heart disease. If you're genetically predisposed to getting cancer, you're going to get cancer, if you're not, you won't. Everyone's health is unique, because we are like snowflakes. There are those who can treat their bodies terribly their entire lives and not get cancer, and those who can do everything they can to try to prevent it and still get it.

      December 9, 2010 at 12:35 | Report abuse |
    • Kev

      Oh my, give yourself a pat on the back. You're so much better than us. Who else loves all the people on here saying how smart they are?

      December 9, 2010 at 13:48 | Report abuse |
  7. chris

    seems a little counterproductive to me...

    December 8, 2010 at 18:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. cal

    It is a stretch to equate education level with intelligence. It might be more of a class issue.

    December 8, 2010 at 19:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. SomeoneOnTheWrongPlanet

    "Here at PsychologyToday.com we have invited the leading academics, clinicians and authors in our field to contribute their thoughts and ideas in the form of blogs"

    Not exactly peer reviewed. Also, the study was a data analysis of children from a study in the U.K and has no breakdown in IQ for anything above 125.

    Casual observation of people wherever I've lived reveals a very different conclusion from this. Neither the most intelligent (i.e., WAY above 125), nor the least intelligent (developmentally disabled) are the heaviest drinkers. Maybe things are different in the U.K. than in the U.S...

    December 8, 2010 at 21:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. D Olson

    Having done my share of drinking in bars over 40 years and spending a few nights in detox recently with about 2 dozen others, I would say in general, no, most people who drink too much and too often are not overly intelligent and in fact are probably below average in general. I learned a lot about alcohol addiction in 2 days in detox and I quit drinking as a result after many years of moderately heavy use although have never had a DUI or other problem. Alcoholism knows no class or status, but ingeneral, there is a tendency for lower status folks to abuse it more than others at least in my experience.

    December 8, 2010 at 21:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Bob

    Intelligent people drink more water!

    December 8, 2010 at 21:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Makes sense

    Let me try to say this simply. Intelligent people think more about more things than less intelligent folks. The more you know about life, the harder life is to handle. Intelligent people are more likely to be depressed, because they are aware of more that there is to be depressed about. It's no surprise they drink more. One of the professions that has some of the highest instances of drinking problems is the medical profession. These people realize more abouut human suffering than most, because they, first of all, study it and are also exposed to it at work. Ignorance is bliss.

    December 8, 2010 at 22:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Daina

      It was bliss! And then...I joined the medical profession...

      December 8, 2010 at 23:15 | Report abuse |
    • Nikki

      You make absolutely no sense!

      December 9, 2010 at 09:06 | Report abuse |
  13. CBilancia

    My personal reason for drinking is to feel better about thinking about what makes me feel like crap–like dealing with all the people who treat me like I'm dumb. I may act dumb, but I bet I can outsmart and outwit just about anyone who thinks they are better than me. I don't over indulge, I just enjoy.

    December 8, 2010 at 22:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Snowflake

      Many people drink in order to feel more "comfortable" in social situations, to worry less about what others think of them.
      It's too bad that we don't treat people equally, and some people are treated generally worse than others, and people resort to things like drinking to cope.
      Try to stand up for yourself when someone treats you poorly and concentrate on giving kindness to others and to your own self.

      December 9, 2010 at 08:19 | Report abuse |
  14. Frank

    I have been sober for about 25 1/2 years and I see that even intelligent people make choices to drink too much, but on the other hand I have seen lower IQ people make the same choices. Alcoholism is a non discrimorty illness.

    December 8, 2010 at 23:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Publius

    "The basis of this argument: Data showing correlations between education level and drinking."

    That's not at all what the article in Psychology Today said. I think that Ms. Landau needs to read the PT article again. In fact, the article specifically states that education level was controlled for, so the results are for intelligence level after controlling for education level. Reading is fundamental.

    December 8, 2010 at 23:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • elandau

      Hi Publius, you are right - that I had meant to say "intelligence" instead of "education" there. I have made some small changes to make things more clear. Thanks for reading!

      December 9, 2010 at 09:27 | Report abuse |
  16. Frank

    I'm smart as crap, and I drink like crazy. In college my nickname was "puke".

    December 8, 2010 at 23:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Stosh

    I'm not as think as you drunk I am.

    December 9, 2010 at 01:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. SAM

    ANyone who drinks ALCOHOL is not INTELLIGENT in any form

    December 9, 2010 at 04:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tom

      Anyone who capitalizes to strengthen his opinion ain't to bright himself. A drink is to be had in your honor tonight, sir.

      December 9, 2010 at 06:08 | Report abuse |
    • abbyful

      Apparently you dont know that there are health benefits to drinking alcohol (wine & beer) in moderation.

      December 9, 2010 at 10:27 | Report abuse |
  19. SAM

    Alcohol shrinks the brain,destorys the nervous system,liver,spleen,throat etc etc etc etc

    December 9, 2010 at 04:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • BlackMonday

      Yeah, but self-destruction never felt so great.

      December 9, 2010 at 05:54 | Report abuse |
    • Jorge

      Tell that to the historians of Winston Churchill, Julius Caesar, Simon Bolivar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Jesus Christ and George Washington, all who partook freely at one time or another or consistently. The lesser of these men would have ben at least 3 times the average modern teetotaler in stamina, intellect,general health and sheer guts. On a lesser note, I was in my best health when I lived in the tropics, worked hard in the heat until I wore wreaths of salt on my clothes, considered cold beer and rum part of my staple diet and womanized to the best of my abilities, five years after working in an air-conditioned office, living what many would consider an (unvoluntarily) virtuous, mostly dry life here in the Deep South Bible Belt and consistently going to bed early, I am suddenly ailed with chronic allergy ills, night cramps, GERD, kidney stones and higher than normal blood sugar. It seems to me as if the ghost is desperate to part the boring, inane existence that the body is subjecting it to. So much for your theory.

      December 9, 2010 at 09:33 | Report abuse |
  20. BlackMonday

    Here's a few current and former alcoholics: Sherman Alexie, Aldrich Ames, John Barrymore, Beethoven, Truman Capote, Johnny Cash, Kurt Cobain, Miles Davis, Roger Ebert, Morgan Freeman, Ulysses S. Grant, Dashiell Hammett, Jimi Hendrix, Jack Kerouac, Henry Morgan, Dorothy Parker, Edgar Allan Poe, Dylan Thomas, Leo Tolstoy, Kurt Vonnegut, Charlie Wilson, Pitt the Younger, and the guy who founded The Men's Warehouse.

    I suppose I believe this study does have some merit.

    December 9, 2010 at 05:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. katie

    What a stupid 'scientific' study... You can slant stats to back up any argument. Another way to justify the use of harmful toxins.

    December 9, 2010 at 06:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Jeffrey Allen Miller NY

    It is possible we do drink more... It is depressing and overwhelming day in and day out to live amongst the stupid people. Need an escape. So, drink away, in moderation. A slight buzz just helps forget that intelligent people are no longer cool or desirable in the U.S.

    December 9, 2010 at 07:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. lance corporal

    I'm extremely intelligent and I drink alot but I only drink because dealing with all you stoooopid people drives me nuts

    December 9, 2010 at 08:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Kenny

    It is not true. People drink and still very smart...

    December 9, 2010 at 08:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Snowflake

    How can you really even determine intelligence?

    December 9, 2010 at 08:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jorge

      You mean that you don't know???????

      December 9, 2010 at 09:56 | Report abuse |
  26. DEA

    No wonder bush quit drinking.

    December 9, 2010 at 08:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. NickLSU

    I believe that this is probably true. People with above average intelligence often need to find ways to cope with how they see the world. Unfortunately, for some, it's hard to ignore the true nature of the world and the people in it. Ignorance is bliss. I'd like to be re-inserted into the Matrix please.

    December 9, 2010 at 08:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Nikki

    They will look for a million ways to say if you're wh*** then you're more intelligent; all other races are evolutionary throwbacks. Lunatics!

    December 9, 2010 at 08:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jorge

      I don't see where the article says or implies such a thing. I agree with the article, especially in light of the fact that I'm a Latino who came out of a household with a conservative, religious worldview (which I take with more than a grain of salt), has been independently tested to an I.Q. of 135-140 more than once and loved his rum-and-cokes as well as his beer. The content of this article reads eerily familiar to me. Anyone else?

      December 9, 2010 at 10:12 | Report abuse |
    • CC Croft


      I don't understand how you got race involved in this. Maybe you're too preoccupied with race?

      December 9, 2010 at 16:30 | Report abuse |
  29. Me

    In that case, Einstein ain't got nuthin on me!

    December 9, 2010 at 09:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Al

    I feel smarter when I drink.

    December 9, 2010 at 09:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Kauai Business Consultant

    Kanazawa is right on in most of his evolutionary findings. Although I differ in opinion about attractiveness. A female will always be able to reproduce regardless of attractiveness, so it follows that optimization of DNA reproduction necessitates a female birth when a male birth would be considerably less optimum. Also I find that when a male pursues a female to mating success the offspring will tend to be male than female but in either case the attractiveness will be more profound. Also on the pursuit factor, when a male decides on pursuing a female time and resources are spent so it follows that at some level the male will pursue selectively and the result is higher attractiveness and intelligence. Conversely when a female chooses her mate the result is a lessening of attractiveness.

    December 9, 2010 at 09:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • CC Croft

      What does this have to do with anything?

      December 9, 2010 at 16:31 | Report abuse |
  32. numbnut

    Just because you're "intelligent", doesn't mean you have common sense.

    December 9, 2010 at 09:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. kumar

    Is it true? More and more brain research supports the idea that our brain functioning can improve no matter our age, with the adoption of appropriate lifestyle and tools, and that doing so can help build our cognitive reserves and protect our brains against decline and even Alzheimer´s symptoms. I recommend checking out sharpbrains.com for a lot of good stuff on lifelong cognitive health and brain fitness, including this nice checklist to evaluate "brain training" products and claims: http://www.sharpbrains.com/resources/10-question-evaluation-checklist/


    December 9, 2010 at 10:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. razzlea

    I dont know about this article. Check out my health and fitness blog http://razzlea.blogspot.com/

    December 9, 2010 at 10:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. bankroll77

    Stimulate your mind – visit http://www.bankroll77.net

    December 9, 2010 at 10:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Frank

    I drink and I consider myself intelligent; so much so that I equate the subjective nature of psychology with astrology. They are both subjective and I subjectively chose to ignore this stupid study. :

    December 9, 2010 at 10:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Justin

    Maybe... Intellegent children grow up to be intelligent adults that make more money than less intelligent people, thus affording them the ability to buy more booze?

    December 9, 2010 at 10:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Tosspot IV

    I am a genius and an alcoho...aawwgghhhhWWAAAALLPPPP!!!!!!!!!

    *cough* *choke* *gag*........even my puke is brilliant.

    December 9, 2010 at 11:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Teeph

    In my experience, (and not to sound too arrogant, but read on . . .) being smart in a stupid world is painful. Bright people need something to either slow them down and make them fit in and/or to dull the pain.

    But the issue is also self-correcting (at least in my case). I USED to be a lot smarter. I also USED to drink . . . a lot.

    But eventually, I must have killed enough brain cells that now I function more or less like a "normal" person and don't drink anymore.

    I"m not sure which approach to life was better.

    December 9, 2010 at 11:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. JD

    Look around, there's plenty of dumb people with a drinking problem too.

    December 9, 2010 at 11:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Enough BS

    I'm tired of this "binge" drinking BS. Drinking with the primary intention to get drunk? Maybe. But all I hear about people getting drunk is that they're "binge" drinking. Get off it already! When I drink, I drink to enjoy the particular beverage of choice, which is usually homebrewed beer. It tastes really good, but I don't drink it with the intention to get drunk, that's a side effect, a bonus, not the primary goal.
    My contention would be that intelligent people drink to enjoy their alcohol and getting drunk is an added bonus, not a primary goal.
    So sick of this "binge" drinking malarkey.

    December 9, 2010 at 11:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Mike

    I enjoy a drink at times, which may be tequila, or a dark beer, like a Belgian Carolus, at 8.5% alcohol, but the idea is to relax, not to get drunk. In my 44 years, I have only been drunk 4 times, at a party where only snacks were served and rum was available, once after being suspended from a job, and twice with company, who drank too. So, I feel that when your mind is working so hard, so long, alcohol brings a break, and we get to slow down, which is so enjoyable. I also find a Guiness refreshing. But for beer, one is enough.

    December 9, 2010 at 12:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. True Medicine

    Why aren't you smart people talking about the other 2/3 of the article?

    We know that self-neglect (poor hygiene) almost invariably accompanies depression. We know that some forms of bacteria that are naturally found on human skin can interact with other biological factors that together reduce and possibly protects against depression. What if self-neglect (as defined earlier) is a protective mechanism/response to the onset of depression? If it is, then perhaps excessive cleanliness should be discouraged.

    Smell ya later!!

    December 9, 2010 at 12:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Brainiac

    I'm highly intelligent, with a well-above average IQ. I drink a lot to deal with all the frakking idiots in the world.

    December 9, 2010 at 12:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Intelligent drinker - but...

    "Alcohol consumption is relatively recent in human history."
    Really.... Well, only if you consider 4000 years ago to be recent! The ancient Egyptians drank wine and beer, and even wrote down the recipes. These so-called "studies" are pure nonsense, and nothing but vehicles for promoting personal political goals and/or burning through grant money – the vast majority of which comes from taxes.

    December 9, 2010 at 12:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • True Medicine

      Considering that most anthropologists agree the modern-looking human species has been around for over 200,000 years, 4000 years does in fact qualify as "relatively recent." There is 50 times more human history before humans began drinking alcohol.

      As for the rest of your comment, are you speaking only to the studies mentioned in the article, or to research in general? You don't seem to know much about how research is generally funded, that much is clear. A "grant" is money awarded that does not have to repaid; the source has nothing to do with whether it qualifies as a grant. Depending on the nature of the research, the vast majority of grants available are from private organizations, where the research is conducted often on behalf of the grant provider, or because the organization(s) providing the grants have an interest in the area studied.

      Without grants, most research simply could not be done. Government grants are very strict with their criteria, and mostly are reserved for areas that have enormous social impact, such as public health issues, education, etc. The US government does not fund extraneous research, nor does it provide funding at the whim of a researcher. without adequate tax revenue, there would be no government research grants. Without grants, there would be no research. Without rsearch, we might as well be living in a world like that of 4000 years ago.


      December 9, 2010 at 12:54 | Report abuse |
  46. becca

    Drinking alcohol destroys your internal organs. It's smart to not drink.

    December 9, 2010 at 12:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Barking Alien

    Yes, we have to kill enough brain cells to match the common idiot.

    December 9, 2010 at 13:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Nerdohol

    It helps numb your mind when it is reeling with too much thought. You can work too much, you can eat too much, you can drink too much, you can sleep too much, you can think way too much. It is unhealthy to turn into a self-absorbed, imperious, pompous kind of pseudo-Nietzsche with storm clouds following you everywhere.

    December 9, 2010 at 14:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Mike

    I love to drink!
    There are many people who say I'm smart so I guess it's true. Plus the booze makes it easier to deal with all the morons.

    December 9, 2010 at 14:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Alcohol Researcher

    I would be interested to know what the controls were for this study. I would say it is likely we are really seeing is a spurious correlation between drinking and intelligence. For instance, perhaps college students drink more than those in the same age group who are not in college ... and college attendance tends to be correlated with intelligence. Or, perhaps those who have more income drink more ... and income tends to be correlated with intelligence. Either way, the relationship is not between drinking and intelligence; it is between income or college attendance and drinking. Has this study controlled for these confounding factors?

    December 9, 2010 at 14:42 | Report abuse | Reply
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