I just stumbled on a blog post that asserts that more intelligent people drink more than less intelligent people.

The author writes:

Controlling for a large number of demographic variables, such as sex, race, ethnicity, religion, marital status, number of children, education, earnings, depression, satisfaction with life, frequency of socialization with friends, number of recent sex partners, childhood social class, mother's education, and father's education, more intelligent children grow up to drink more alcohol in the UK and the US.

The data presented reportedly comes from the National Child Development Study (NCDS) in the United Kingdom and the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) data in the United States. However, the author does not cite a particular reference where such analyses are reported.

Furthermore, I also wonder about what the meaning of any association between intelligence and alcohol consumption would be after controlling for so many factors. In particular, mother's education, father's education, social class, and education together should predict a lot of variance in intelligence.


  • What articles report the actual analyses mentioned in the blog post? Or what other articles summarise the relationship between intelligence and alcohol consumption?
  • What is the relationship between intelligence and alcohol when you don't control for other factors?
  • How does the relationship change between intelligence and alcohol consumption when you introduce some but not all of the covariates? In particular, which if any covariates modify the relationship between intelligence and alcohol consumption?
  • Taken in totality is it reasonable to assume that intelligence has a causal effect on alcohol consumption?
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I want to say yes, but for all the wrong reasons... $\endgroup$
    – user200
    Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 10:05
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Findings From the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (pdf) $\endgroup$
    – user200
    Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 10:32
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Jeromy Anglim: a simple observation: The bars are not full of doctors, professors, engineers, scientists and classical music composers, etc? I have been to bars all around the world, it appears intelligence is not present. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 19:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Greg My sense is that any observed positive association assuming it is true with covariates is the result in some sense of adding too many covariates. That said, I'd be wary of casual observations. There are too many issues; influences of stereotypes, recall biases, base rate differences, different drinking location preferences, etc. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 1:13
  • $\begingroup$ @jeromy-anglim: I will keep that in mind. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 23:06

2 Answers 2


This is just the beginning of an answer, based on what I've read so far. I'm very keen to read other answers.

Resnick et al (1997)

@Yannis Rizos has pointed me to the article by Resnick et al (1997) based on the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The article reports data on 12118 adolescents drawn from grades 7 through 12.

The results suggested that "individual characteristics explained 7% of the variability in frequency of alcohol use". The only variable mentioned related to intelligence was lower grade point average. Specifically, lower grade point average was related to more frequent alcohol use. If anything, this suggests that the relationship between intelligence and alcohol use is negative. This result is obtained as part of a regression model controlling for some demographic factors. The bivariate relationship without covariates is not reported.

Of course, there are many limitations. First, this study concerns adolescent drinking, which may be a quite different phenomena to adult drinking. Second, while GPA correlates highly with intelligence, it is not intelligence.


  • Resnick, M.D., Bearman, P.S., Blum, R.W., Bauman, K.E., Harris, K.M., Jones, J., Tabor, J., Beuhring, T., Sieving, R.E., Shew, M. & others (1997). Protecting adolescents from harm. JAMA: the journal of the American Medical Association, 278, 823-832. PDF
  • $\begingroup$ The relations seems to be more tricky (see nature.com/news/online-games-offer-trove-of-brain-data-1.13247 and links there), with intelligence peaking at 1-2 drinks per day (and it is, AFAIK, without controlling for other parameters). However, excluding other social, health (e.g. some people cannot drink because of some diseases) or psychological (e.g. related to stress or creativity-depression link) correlations may be hard. BTW: Do you know any tests with control (especially double blind)? Or any possible mechanisms than may make alcohol boosting intelligence? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 27, 2013 at 12:27

I'm not sure the article really covers the economic aspects. Drinking is an expensive hobby, enjoyed by many in well paid jobs who are able to fund it. It's not just the social aspect it may be drinking at home but I would say this could also be impacted by the type of jobs that are better paid or require more intelligence.

Many people in higher-end jobs find it hard to switch off, you can't just stop at 5pm and not think about work again until 9am the next morning whereas a regular factory/office worker could forget instantly about work tasks.

I've been in the position of getting through 1+ bottles of wine a night as a rapid wind down, working late then have a bottle in an hour or two before bed, repeated at least 5-6 nights a week.

At the other end of the scale the alcoholics give up everything to fund drink and I would dispute any argument that suggests these were the brightest kids in lower school. From what I've seen they tend to be come from generations of low self-esteem and intelligence.


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