Why Do Smart Kids Drink?

I was just wondering what I should write about today when the universe handed me a freebie by showing me this article:


So far what’s been shown is a correlation (which, as anyone who took Psych or Neuro in school knows, DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSATION) and so people are running fast and loose with speculation as to why we (indulge me here) smarty-pants drink so much more than the dunces.

The pop-psych answers I’ve seen: 1. To make up for having studied in childhood and to regain the days of stupid behavior, 2. To make other (read: dumb) people more palatable, and 3. Because smart people have more stress and are in jobs that have more of a drinking culture.

My response to numbers one and two is: Eeeeeeeeeeh.

Disclaimer: The following is all based on my own experience with intoxicants and I do not make assumptions about the behaviors of others.

Now that that’s out of the way: No, you dummies, it’s not to reach some mystical childhood state or to be able to deal with the peons. I drink because wine is delicious and it relaxes my body and mind, which both tend to work extra overtime.

The smart people I know who enjoy the moderate use of alcohol do not merely drink in social situations when they’ll be faced with less intelligent people. They like a glass of wine while cooking, or to unwind after a day of work. They go out on a Saturday night with their equally-intelligent friends. We don’t use it as a way to deal with people we otherwise wouldn’t like–we use it with people we already like quite a bit.

I’m very aware of the tendency to self-medicate with substances, so here’s my two cents. Smart people think. It’s part of the whole being-smart thing. The things they think about are not always relaxing and happy–no one can think only of puppies and rainbows for 18+ hours a day. They think about the future. They think about the past. They think about their problems, over and over and over. They get bored because they’ve been thinking so much. They think about what they want, which is basically defined by what they don’t have. And that thinking tires a body out.

Thinking about stressful stuff brings on a physiological response of tension and stress. Alcohol relaxes both the muscles and the mind. Do we really have to dig for reasoning here?

Also, and here’s where I get a little more pessimistic: Smart people get existential, and sometimes all you want to do when you’re feeling that way is to numb yourself a little bit, or at least stop thinking about existential matters.

Smart people think about what they’re on Earth to do. They think about higher powers and/or the lack of them, they think about the things that happen in the world, they see that thousands of years of human existence has apparently changed very little in the way of preventing suffering, they see the shortness and the potential insignificance of their own lives, and that’s heavy stuff. They realize that they’re going to die, sooner than they expect, sooner than they’d like. They realize that they are not the center of the universe. They see that even people with good intentions at the top levels of politics are often made impotent by bureaucracy and by the sheer moral complexity of the world’s problems. This penetration is good, but it also…sucks.

Lisa Simpson graphed it better than I can say it.

Is there any wonder that intelligent people who have these issues weighing on their mind might want to take a break from these anxieties about their own (and our collective) responsibilities? Listen, being a responsible global citizen is exhausting. It can really beat you down. And if a PBR every so often helps you to relax so that you can tackle the world’s problems afresh tomorrow…

Obviously I don’t think that drinking to self-medicate is healthy. Meditation, exercise, engagement in a hobby–all way better options. I just don’t think it’s so mystifying as to why smart people imbibe more, and more often. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with our childhoods or with the feeling of being, in Scar’s words, “Surrounded by idiots” (I’m only quoting cartoon characters today). Maybe it’s just because being a smart person isn’t the easiest thing, when you come down to it.



1 Comment

Filed under Musings

One response to “Why Do Smart Kids Drink?

  1. Yes. What an intelligently composed article.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, PBR is only $2 at The Long Room. If that’s not smart, I don’t know what is. (But actually.)

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