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Drank Too Much So Don't Drink Enough?
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I never particularly enjoy new acquaintances discovering that I’m a teetotaler. It’s especially annoying in bars after games because in the non-professional sports world (as I was reminded of in Des Moines recently), abstention infringes on the ritual of hosting or being hosted, smashing each other up, shaking hands afterward, and then getting smashed together that night. I’m not out to be an iconoclast or pass judgment on you for your dipsomania chump, I’ve just never touched the stuff and see no compelling reason to do so now! I have a terrible family history of it on the paternal side, and my behavioral vocabulary is devoid of the word “moderation”.

Tangentially, I wondered if there might be an inverse relationship between getting plastered and avoiding alcohol like the plague. At the individual level, of course, there obviously must be, since someone can’t both binge and abstain. Perhaps among ethnic groups like Finns that are at greater risk for destructively heavy drinking (which I suppose is more-or-less the definition of alcoholism) than those who’ve had a longer ancestral exposure to alcohol, like Greeks, abstention rates are also higher, a sort of self-imposed defense against the threat of losing control.

The GSS formerly posed two questions that allow for looking at this. One simply asks whether or not a person ever drinks any alcohol at all. The other asks respondents if they are prone to drinking more than they should. Taking the respective percentages for 24 ethnic groups (including East Asian as a combination of those of Chinese or Japanese ancestry, and “American”, whose members are found in the McCain belt), I found a correlation of… .03. There is no apparent relationship between the two behaviors whatsoever.

The question on excessive drinking excludes those who abstain completely. So it could be that the teetotalers tend to be the same people who are at disproportionately high risk of alcoholism (like me), while the remainder who drink do so excessively at roughly equal levels across ethnic groups. That’s merely speculation, and it presumes a lot given from the fewer than 3 in 10 respondents who said they didn’t drink, but if the GSS question on excessive drinking included the minority of non-drinkers, it would at least be testable.

GSS variables used: DRINK, DRUNK, ETHNIC

(Republished from The Audacious Epigone by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Addiction, GSS, Race 
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  1. My impression from a few decades ago was that Irish-Americans and Scots-Irish had higher percentages of both alcoholics and teetotalers.

  2. I saw a study once that showed that the second most likely risk group for becoming alcoholics were children of teetotalers. The first group was children of alcoholics.

  3. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Evolutionarily speaking, can someone tell me if the genetics that make some groups, like the Irish (and Amerindians), susceptible to alcoholism, also render them indulgent in other areas? That is, are the alleles that don't protect them as well against developing a dependence on booze actually behavioral variants that promote a tendency toward overindulgence rather than moderation and thus, will lead them to other behavioral problems as well? Or do we know?

    And by chance, if there is some truth to that, (an aversion to moderation), what selection forces were at work? Are the Irish natural "fighters" or do they only act up with booze? Is the "Irish temper" a myth? Gambling, fighting, drinking –all result in a high that the person seeks over and over again, after all.

    I ask because I know many of you are fairly well educated in this.

  4. Anon,

    Can't speak authoritatively on that, but it's easy to see how an aversion to moderation potentially carries both benefits and drawbacks. I assume male aversion tends to be higher than that of females, and there are probably population differences as well. Relative to earlier human history, I also assume post-industrial society has shifted the advantage in the direction of moderation.

  5. Steve,

    Irish-American teetotalers = 24.7%
    Scots-Irish = 27.1%
    All = 26.6%

    Irish-American hard drinkers = 41.9%
    Scots-Irish = 46.7%
    All = 37.2%

  6. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Evolutionarily speaking, can someone tell me if the genetics that make some groups, like the Irish (and Amerindians), susceptible to alcoholism, also render them indulgent in other areas?

    The Irish are not unusually susceptible to alcoholism.

    Those peoples who are unusually susceptible to it are those who do not have historical experience with drinking potent alcoholic substances. American Indians, but also Asians.

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