Based on their experiences, different people likely develop very different pictures of the kind of person who abuses alcohol. People might imagine that stress plays a role in alcohol abuse. People going through marital troubles or unemployment therefore might be more likely to abuse alcohol. Others might imagine peer pressure to be an important factor. They could imagine frat boys cheering and drinking until they pass out. Surely family history would also have an impact.
There is another unexpected factor, though, which bears an important relationship with alcohol use and abuse. Research has uncovered interesting insights into the relationship between drinking and intelligence.
Alcohol Use versus Alcohol Abuse
It is important to distinguish between alcohol use and abuse, especially when looking over recent studies. Attention-grabbing headlines can sometimes seem to indicate a certain group is more likely to abuse alcohol, when in fact the article only argues that the group is more likely to use alcohol.
It is also important to consider what the study defines as abuse. According to the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, someone who has five drinks more than five times in a month qualifies as having a heavy drinking problem. Under this definition, someone who merely parties hard on the weekends would likely qualify as a problem drinker.
Most studies, however, define a drinker based not only on the number of drinks they have had within a certain period. They also usually include people’s responses to questions about their reasons for using alcohol and their ability to control their use.
Intelligence and Alcohol Use
A number of studies have indicated that more intelligent people are more likely to use, to at least some degree, alcohol and other drugs. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health 35 percent of high school graduates drink, compared to 68 percent of college graduates. Analysis of another data set found that people with larger vocabularies tended to drink more. In addition,a study in Britain found that more intelligent people were more likely to use psychoactive drugs than the less intelligent.
It has been argued that the statistics which correlate higher education with alcohol use fail to account for at least one factor. Some say that comparatively less intelligent people end up having severe problems related to their alcohol use. Therefore they have to totally cut off their consumption, otherwise they might fall into addiction. It could be assumed that these people would drink more if they could do so responsibly, but because they cannot they have to totally abstain from it.
Intelligence and Alcohol Abuse
On the other hand, the aforementioned National Survey on Drug Use and Health also found that 24 percent of high school graduates binge drink, whereas only 23 percent of college graduates do the same. In fact, as Stanton Peele observes, compared to all groups (no high-school diploma, high school diploma, some college), college graduates have the highest percentage of drinkers and the lowest percentage of binge drinkers. This indicates that more intelligent people may be more likely to have a few drinks from time to time. However, they are less likely to lose control of the situation and drink excessively.
Intelligence and Self-Control
A paper published in 2010 by Daniel Wilmoth of Cornell University argued that the self-control is the crucial quality in using but not abusing alcohol. Numerous studies have found that more-intelligent people tend to have more self-control than less-intelligent people. They therefore perform better on tests in which they have to resist impulses.
For many people, drinking alcohol can be a pleasurable activity. However, people also know that if they drink too much their health will be negatively effected and they will have a hangover the next day. People with more self-control can stop themselves from taking too many drinks, even if they would enjoy them at the moment. They know that they’ll pay a high price later on, so they cut themselves off. People with less self-control, however, are more likely to take the extra drinks and fail to consider the later consequences. They are then left with a hangover which they regret. If they don’t change their behavior, they are later left with more serious health problems.
Some evidence of the idea that more-intelligent people can better control their impulses can be found in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) from 1979. This survey actually found that more intelligent people tended to drink more when they were younger. However, they tended to decrease their drinking more as they got older. The survey found that when more intelligent people tried to give up alcohol, they were more successful in doing so than less-intelligent people.
How to Improve Self-Control
A few studies since 2003 have found all people have only a limited amount of willpower, a mental resource needed for self-control. For example, subjects are placed in a situation that requires them to resist an impulse, like eating a delicious food, for a period of time. They are then presented with a new task in which they must also control their impulses. It has been found that people who have previously had to struggle to control their impulses are not as good at controlling them in later tests. That is, if a person spends a long time resisting the desire to eat chocolate cake during the day, they will have less willpower left in the evening to resist the offer of an alcoholic drink.
Unfortunately for the less-intelligent, it has been found that they tend to have a lower level of willpower compared to more-intelligent people. Despite this, there are still methods which can help people with less willpower to overcome their addictions and control their impulses.
* Limit temptations: It is important for people who want to beat an addiction to alcohol to limit other kinds of temptations in their lives. This will help keep their willpower from becoming exhausted.
* Regulate the environment: Environment plays a very important role in temptation and addiction. People who want to lose weight find it is easier when they don’t keep sweets in the house. People with an alcohol addiction can keep away from places where alcohol will be available.
* Eyes on the prize: People have been found to have greater self-control when they think about the big picture rather than the present situation. When faced with the opportunity to drink try to focus on the long-term benefits of abstention.
* Set realistic goals: It can be counterproductive for people to set their goals too high and doom themselves to failure. It may be better for them to set smaller goals and reward themselves for achieving them.