Tag Archives: alcohol

Work, Drink, Sleep, Repeat

Slate’s Jordan Weissman reports on a new paper regarding the drinking habits of professional who work long hours:

Science has finally confirmed what anybody who has ever met an i-banker, lawyer, or journalist already knew: People who work exhaustingly long hours like to drink themselves insensate at the end of the week.

To be specific, an analysis published in the British Medical Journal found that working more than 48 hours a week was associated with a slightly higher probability of “risky” alcohol consumption. The authors reached their main conclusions by analyzing unpublished data from 27 studies conducted in the United States, Europe, and Australia. They also looked at the findings of 36 previously released papers, many of which were also from Japan—where after-work binge drinking is basically a cherished part of its office culture.

I’ll confirm this from personal anecdotal experience, and I think we’re all intuitively on board with the finding. Weissmann, however, backs the wrong conclusion:

the data doesn’t give any clear answers on correlation vs. causation. Maybe those who tend to pull endless hours at the office are the same personality types who tend to imbibe heavily. Or maybe working long hours drives people to drink. Personally, I’d bet on the latter.

While no doubt some people drink to cope with the long hours, it is far more likely that the same factor causes both long work hours and heavier drinking. I’ve had this hypothesis for a while and this is as good a time as any to mention it: the brain’s reward system  is the same for all rewards. Your dopamine level doesn’t know if you’re raising it with work, sex, alcohol, or cocaine. My hypothesis is that the people whose reward center is more sensitive are more likely to exhibit addictive behavior in different domains; that is, they’re more likely to feel “rewarded” working long hours and similarly “rewarded” drinking that 8th whiskey. I’d bet that this common factor explains a lot of the correlation found in the paper.

A Fluid Ounce Of Prevention

The Washington Post reports that Google searches for “hangover cure” spike on January 1 each year, providing statistical backing to something we’d already know. The magnitude is staggering:

Hangover Cure SearchesOf course, hangover cures are basically non-existent:

“There’s nothing you can do to remove the alcohol byproducts,” Stanley Goldfarb, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, said. “They have to be metabolized by your liver, which takes time. There’s no evidence that anything is better than waiting.”

While likely true, the professor (and the Google searchers) need to focus more on hangover prevention. I found Goldfarb’s quote in an article seeking to debunk Pedialyte as an effective hangover cure. I won’t speak to that – there’s a strong placebo effect to be dealt with – but I will highly recommend to everyone to battle through a bottle of Pedialyte before New Year’s Eve revelries (or St. Patrick’s day, the NFL Draft, or whatever you celebrate) and reap the rewards the following morning. Coconut water is a decent substitute, too. I believe in this, and here’s my fridge as proof:


Happy new year, indeed.

Alcohol And Sexual Aggression

Apparently alcohol doesn’t make you sexually aggressive, at least in public:

When researchers at the University of Toronto and the University of Washington observed young people’s behavior in bars, they found that the man’s aggressiveness didn’t match his level of intoxication. There was no relationship.

Instead, men targeted women who were intoxicated.

The researchers hired and trained 140 young adults to go into bars in the Toronto area and note every incident of aggression they saw. They found that 25 percent of all incidents involved sexual aggression. And 90 percent of the victims of sexual aggression were women being harassed by men.

No surprises so far, although the methodology is obviously suspect: judging what is sexually aggressive is pretty subjective, so take these results with some grains of salt. What we shouldn’t do is make sweeping conclusions from this study.

Cue someone making sweeping conclusions from this study:

A new study backs up what feminists have been saying for approximately ever about the relationship between drinking and rape. Namely, that alcohol–despite its impressive powers–neither magically turns well-meaning kids into sexual aggressors nor makes everything so topsy turvy that nobody has any clue what consent is and if they have it or gave it. Instead, sexual predators deliberately target intoxicated victims. …

The reason this is so important is that the way we understand these dynamics has real-world consequences for how we approach preventing sexual violence. The myth that drunk victims gave off “mixed signals” underpins some of the worst victim blaming and outright rape denialism we see regularly. And, as we’ve discussed extensively on this blog, since predators knowingly look for the most vulnerable-seeming potential victims, “rape prevention” efforts that focuses on telling individual women how to decrease their personal risk are inadequate. As Alexandra’s said before, “Until we create real systemic change, anyone’s individual efforts to not be [the drunkest person in the room] don’t actually reduce rates of violence.”

Well, a lot to unpack here, starting with the”alcohol is a tool not a root cause.” I don’t know anyone who argues that alcohol makes people violent, but it’s universally agreed that it lowers inhibitions. The effect of alcohol on the victim is clear, but the effect on a person who didn’t intend to go out and commit a crime exists, too. It doesn’t make him more violent, but it nudges him closer (using Bill James’ excellent rooms metaphor) to doing something he previously would not have considered.

This is why the presupposition that there is one kind of predator and one kind of process that leads to rape is wrong and ultimately destructive to the cause of reducing violence. There are obviously sexual predators out there, and they do target the most vulnerable potential victims. Contrary to the assertion above, however, individual efforts to avoid being vulnerable do reduce rates of violence. This has been shown in other areas: more secure cars have led to an overall drop in car thefts, even though thieves do go after the most vulnerable cars. Similarly, reducing ones own vulnerability reduces the potential victim pool by at least one. Yes, this places that burden on the potential victim, but it’s silly to say the method doesn’t work because it won’t instantly solve the problem for everyone. You can advise ladies to watch where they go and what they drink while condemning those who would otherwise take advantage of them and taking steps to stop such predators.

The biggest disservice done to the cause of rape prevention in the above “analysis” is the lumping in together of two stock characters in the debate around sexual assault: the predator who goes out with the intention of committing a crime, and the drunken college kid who hooks up with an equally drunk college kid. The latter is irresponsible in many ways, and is a crime in states that consider a person who is drunk to be unable to give consent and sex with such persons rape. (Many have correctly pointed out that this often results in “mutual rape” among two drunk but otherwise willing people.) Lumping both of those together is counter-productive for two reasons:

  • It invites strong opposition from those who want to protect the second group from being treated like the first group. If you don’t want college students who make mistakes (again, different from actual predators) to be treated like violent criminals, you’re going to oppose strong punishment for them, and if they’re grouped together with a group you consider to be violent sexual predators, then the predators will benefit from this. Splitting these up will reduce opposition.
  • It implies the same solution for two separate problems. Sexual predators can be fought only with prevention and punishment. In other cases, education is more powerful (as I argued before). Using the same solution for different problems means the problem isn’t reduced as much as it could be

In any case, I assume the study above will be written off by those who don’t like what it says, and considered gospel by those who like it. Either way, people on both sides are going to be unwilling to unpack the actual issues involved, at the risk of seeming to concede. Meanwhile, crime that could be prevent will continue to happen.

Be proud, everyone.

There Is No Liquor in Maine

That’s the only conclusion I can draw from the existence of a Maine law that prohibits bars and pubs from listing the alcohol content of their beers. The rationale, apparently, is that listing the alcohol content of beers would be “encouraging underage drinking and overserving.” I will do my best to see this from the regulators’ point of view, so I assume the idea is that underage (and other) drinkers would, if they knew which beers were stronger, buy/steal the most alcoholic beers that offer the most buzz for the buck. To discourage this, the law prohibits informing drinkers about which beers would get them drunk.

Even assuming you consider this a rational way to go about reducing underage drinking and public drunkenness (and I don’t), think about the tradeoffs the regulators are making:

  • Drinkers don’t know the content of new beers they’re trying, so someone who can safely put away a couple of Miller Lite-type beers can be well over the legal and safe limits if those beers are craft brews with 3-4 times the alcohol content. The law actually makes it more difficult of people to be safe.
  • Drinkers on a budget are pushed, at the margin, into drinking liquor. People who might be happy with a strong Indian pale ale now get cheap bourbon instead because that is guaranteed to be strong.

So, regulators, in the interest of minimizing the public costs of drunkenness, are doubly undermining their own stated goals. Fortunately, it seems the law has been underenforced and might be curtailed now, so yay undoing past mistakes.

The NFL Rejects A Gun Company Ad; Commentary Ensues

This was sent to me this morning, and it was another issue I hadn’t planned on commenting on. The NFL has banned a Daniel Defense ad that was made for the Super Bowl (can be viewed at the beginning of this video below), and a man made a response video castigating the NFL for their implicit stance on guns. The ideological split on this is clear, although the liberal wings of my Facebook and Twitter feeds aren’t sure how to react to the fact that the video doesn’t star a middle-aged white Southern man.

While my own position on guns is still fuzzy even to myself (private property on one side, externalities on the other), I am okay with entities like the NFL deciding not to feature something admittedly controversial during their premier event. Of course, the NFL, once the video was submitted, had to take a stance one way or the other by airing or refusing the ad, and they were bound to face a backlash from someone no matter what. Until the NFL lets us watch all games online like MLB does, though, I will happily support anything that makes the NFL’s life more miserable.

there is, of course, a certain hypocrisy in the NFL’s stance, considering they make their money off brutal violence that leads to death and serious injury, but of course this is exactly why they don’t want to also be associated with guns. The video does call out a second and more important hypocrisy: the NFL happily accepts alcohol ads (and the money that comes with them), and the effects of alcohol on American society are both similar and related as Tyler Cowen pointed out:

Guns, like alcohol, have many legitimate uses, and they are enjoyed by many people in a responsible manner.  In both cases, there is an elite which has absolutely no problems handling the institution in question, but still there is the question of whether the nation really can have such bifurcated social norms, namely one set of standards for the elite and another set for everybody else.

In part our guns problem is an alcohol problem.  According to Mark Kleiman, half the people in prison were drinking when they did whatever they did.  (Admittedly the direction of causality is murky but theory points in some rather obvious directions.)  Our car crash problem – which kills many thousands of Americans each year — is also in significant part an alcohol problem.  There are connections between alcohol and wife-beating and numerous other social ills, including health issues of course.

So yes, the NFL should be called out for their serious hypocrisy on the alcohol and gun issues. Unfortunately, it’s not like many will boycott it successfully on these grounds. However, given then NFL’s struggles to control the violence inherent in the game, this issue may be moot soon enough.

Confessions of a Hopaholic

For my birthday, I was treated to tickets to the Chicago Beer Festival. Held in Union Station, a lovely venue, the festival features beer samples by small and large local, regional, and national breweries. I had an especially great time because it turns out that the craft beer boom of the past decade has manifested itself to a large extent in India Pale Ales (IPAs), whose hoppy bitterness is one of my favorite beer features. (My other favorite, pilsners, are much more difficult to come by.) While some, like Adrienne So, don’t like bitter beers and think the world should change to accommodate people like her, I am enjoying the fact that my prime years coincide with the rise of the IPA. (I don’t, however, like that my lifetime’s pop culture is heavy on zombies, vampires, and housewives.)

In honor of the beer fest, the rise of the IPA, and the pleasant buzz I had Union Station, I tweeted a number of great names for a craft IPA, largely inspired by the fine folks at Hopothesis. Here they are in one place, with corrected spelling and other minor changes.

Nucleus of Hoperative Facts
BeeHop and Rocksteady
Hop And Circumstance
Hop-Up Relievers
Teeny Hopper Movies
1200 Indian Hopees
The Big Hopla
Drrty Hop
A Multinational Hoporation
Click R To Hop The Image
Cash Hop
Black Hops Team
HOPS – whatcha gonna do when they come for you?!
The Egyptian Hopts
Hop Comic
Cornell Defeats Hopstra
Hop Goes The Weasel
Dishoptive Technology
Government Hoperty
The Public Hoption
Phantom of the Hopera
The Hoprah Network
The Hopping Block
Cape of Good Hop
Coitus Interhoptus
Hot Hopic

Yoffe Replies To Her Critics

As a final piece to, Emily Yoffe responded to her critics today. The whole piece is worth reading, if you’ve been following the debate, but here’s a key excerpt:

Many others said I should have written a piece not focusing on women, but on men, who, after all, are the rapists. I did note in the story the importance of rape education—especially teaching young men and women what consent means and that a highly intoxicated woman can’t give it. But I agree with critics that the education of men is an important issue and I should have hit it harder. However, the argument went beyond that to declare that when it comes to sexual assault, women’s behavior is a verboten topic and the only thing to discuss is men. Many said college women don’t need to change their drinking habits—what has to change is a male culture of sexual entitlement. No doubt that culture should change, but at best it will do so slowly and incompletely. In the meantime, this weekend, some young, intoxicated women will wake up next to guys they never wanted to sleep with. I believe it’s worth talking about how keeping within a safe drinking limit can potentially help young women avoid such situations.

Slate Redux, And Victim-Blaming In Particular

Shortly after Emily Yoffe’s column posted yesterday, Twitter and Facebook went pretty crazy, and, given the circles I am in, most of them were angrily anti-Yoffe. The arguments, focused on two basic areas, one of which makes sense but hardly warrants vitriol, and one of which I still don’t understand.

The first is the usual call to focus on the perpetrators, not the victims. One particularly interesting piece rewrites Yoffe’s column to call on young men to stop getting drunk, as alcohol has been shown to be associate with the commission of sexual crimes. It’s an excellent point, one that Yoffe merely touched upon, and it’s certainly an important part of rape prevention. (From my own college experience, it’s also taught to most freshmen as soon as they arrive.) The fact that Yoffe’s column focuses on another part of rape prevention (namely, women protecting themselves) doesn’t mean she’s saying this other part of prevention deserves no attention or resources. (In fact, her column calls for binge drinking in general to be curbed further.) It’s fair to disagree on which of the methods is more effective and more important, but it’s silly to argue that emphasizing one particular part of a big picture means that others aren’t important. (To continue yesterday’s example, I counsel people against going to the south side of Chicago, but that doesn’t mean I don’t also want them to avoid most of Detroit.)(Or Syria.)

The second, louder part of the response to Yoffe was that she blaming the victim or denying the reality of rape. I’ve never been particularly clear on the concept that a victim might be at fault for whatever happened to them, but based on some all-capped Facebook posts, it seems that the position is this: By saying that women can reduce the risk of being raped by not drinking (or other behaviors, like dressing provocatively), this means that women who drink and are raped are at fault for letting happen, since they could have avoided the rape by not drinking. (If anyone reads this differently, let me know.) I suppose the difficulty for me is making the leap that someone who doesn’t take every precautionary measure is somehow “at fault” for violence done to them. I understand that this is particularly sensitive issue with regards to rape, a crime that’s difficult to prove because there are no witnesses (usually) and determining the facts tends to become a he said/she said affair (in which, 80% of the time, he or she or both were drunk). I still don’t understand who would blame a person for being raped – as I said yesterday, and as Yoffe points out, the blame for sexual crime always falls on the perpetrator and never the victim. Neither legal nor moral fault of the rapist is reduced by his victim’s actions. While I can understand that some people viscerally respond to something like that by saying “well, she shouldn’t have gotten drunk,” and perhaps some of those people even consider the victim at fault, I don’t, and Yoffe doesn’t. And lumping us all together does a disservice to the ultimate goal, which I hope is “having no rapes anywhere ever.”

Getting drunk or going to a dangerous neighborhood aren’t immoral actions, and in a perfect world, women could do all of those things without risk. In the real world, they are at higher risk of being raped when they are drunk. Castigating someone who points out this reality and advises women to protect themselves isn’t just stupid, it’s counter-productive. Just because women SHOULD be able to get drunk with impunity doesn’t mean that they CAN. And just because a woman could have lowered the risk of being the victim of a crime doesn’t mean she’s at fault. It means, however, that a future potential victim can learn from that event. Otherwise, a tragic event becomes even more tragic.

PS: Megan McArdle, my intellectual crush, backs Yoffe, and even mirrors some of my own arguments (be still my heart):

it would be lunatic to tell them it’s fine to act as if our neighborhood right now is as safe as I hope it someday will be. And realistically, telling my guests where it’s safe to walk is more likely to be effective than telling the muggers that what they’re doing is wrong. I can press for more police patrols and vote on the issue of crime, but at the moment when a guest gets up to leave, I also need to tell them how to be safe.

[Here I swoon, intellectually.]

Alcohol & Rape: An Intra-Slate Battle

Dueling articles regarding binge drinking and rape appeared on Slate today, an original piece by Emily Yoffe and a reply by Amanda Hess. I’m entirely on Yoffe’s side, but let’s go through it anyway because it addresses some interesting issues I’ve been meaning to get to anyway after Serena Williams was criticized for her comments about the Steubenville rape case.  Also, I’ll focus on man-on-woman assaults in this post, even though, once prison is taken into account, more men than women are raped in the US.

Yoffe begins:

In one awful high-profile case after another—the U.S. Naval Academy; Steubenville, Ohio; now the allegations in Maryville, Mo.—we read about a young woman, sometimes only a girl, who goes to a party and ends up being raped. As soon as the school year begins, so do reports of female students sexually assaulted by their male classmates. A common denominator in these cases is alcohol, often copious amounts, enough to render the young woman incapacitated. But a misplaced fear of blaming the victim has made it somehow unacceptable to warn inexperienced young women that when they get wasted, they are putting themselves in potential peril.

And the key paragraph:

Let’s be totally clear: Perpetrators are the ones responsible for committing their crimes, and they should be brought to justice. But we are failing to let women know that when they render themselves defenseless, terrible things can be done to them. Young women are getting a distorted message that their right to match men drink for drink is a feminist issue. The real feminist message should be that when you lose the ability to be responsible for yourself, you drastically increase the chances that you will attract the kinds of people who, shall we say, don’t have your best interest at heart. That’s not blaming the victim; that’s trying to prevent more victims.

As I said, I echo Yoffe’s points. It has always bothered me that a victim of rape immediately becomes immune from criticism that could be used to educate other women. A victim of a rape, or any crime, can take many steps to make the crime more or less likely, and each unfortunate instance of the crime is another data point that can be used to tell us what victims might do to endanger themselves. As Yoffe’s article demonstrates, binge drinking is strongly associated with danger for young women, and with sexual assault in particular. The fact that this is so doesn’t change anything about the culpability of the perpetrator. In fact, a victim’s actions don’t bear on the perpetrator’s in most crimes: walking down a dark alley doesn’t make a mugging somehow okay, and no one would argue that it did. To go to the extreme, if a young woman decided to take a stroll in a maximum security prison yard that is unsupervised by guards, anything that happened to her would be the fault of those that attacked her.

Yet whenever someone (like Serena above) points out that a victim engaged in a behavior that put them at risk, they’re accused of “blaming the victim.” It’s a misguided attempt to protect the feeling of the particular victim while putting many more potential victims at risk. We have learned that certain behaviors (say, binge drinking) or places (south side of Chicago), or even companions, are more dangerous than others. Not pointing this out to protect the feelings of someone who engaged in that behavior or went to such a place simply prevents other women from learning how to take care of themselves. Obviously we should minimize the harm to rape victims, but if we’re trying to minimize the harm to rape victims, the best way to do it is to minimize the number of rapes. In this case, doing what’s best for victims overall may not be what’s best for a particular victim, but I think all reasonable people would agree that preventing rapes is more important.

Amanda Hess is not reasonable. Starting:

Telling women that they can evade rape by not drinking will only exacerbate that problem [of women feeling guilty and shameful] when it does happen, through no fault of their own. One victim of alcohol-assisted rape Yoffe spoke with said that she was overwhelmed with “shame and guilt” following the assault, and only began to come to terms with the crime when “I realized it wasn’t my fault.”  That realization felt like climbing out of a “deep, dark hole.” Victims should never be put in that hole in the first place—no matter how many drinks they’ve consumed. [Emphasis added.]

Hess probably doesn’t mean that the only effect of pointing out when a victim engaged in dangerous behaviors is that they’ll feel worse about themselves, but her sentence constructions (and her article) make you think that that’s all that matters. She refuses to acknowledge that “telling women that they can evade rape by not drinking” will also lower the incidence of rape. If that effect is large, as it probably would be, given campus rape statistics, perhaps some hurt feelings in the short run are worth it.

Hess continues with an excellent Nirvana fallacy:

Rape is a societal problem, not a self-help issue. Parents can tell their own daughters not to get drunk, but even if those women follow instructions, it won’t keep other people’s daughters safe. It will just force campus rapists who rely on alcohol to execute their crimes to find other targets.

Yes, rape is a societal problem, but it obviously ALSO a self-help issue. Parents teaching their daughters to avoid dangerous behaviors aren’t protecting other people’s daughters, but it should count for something that they’re protecting their own child. And yes, sexual predators who lose one source of “prey” will move on to something else, but surely it’s a good thing that the victim pool is smaller and their crimes are more difficult. This should

Colleges can start changing those structures by refusing to put the onus on victims to prevent their own assaults, and instead holding perpetrators accountable for the crimes they commit—often, while drunk.

The latter part is obviously true. Many have even argued that universities have gone too far in going after alleged rapists while they’re still merely alleged, but never mind that now. The former part is an excellent strawman that is easily knocked down: yes, universities bear some responsibility for protecting their students, but students bear some responsibility for their own safety. Reminding them that some of their own behaviors are dangerous isn’t putting the onus on them any more than pointing out that pizza is fattening for students fighting the freshman fifteen.

In a perfect world, yes, a woman should be able to get blackout drunk in a fraternity basement and go home unharmed. That doesn’t mean that women should act like they live in a perfect world. Hess seems to be under the impression that girls protecting themselves somehow undermines the quest for this perfect world. Yoffe and I disagree. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to live in such a world.

Review: Bye Bye Liver

I recently attended Bye Bye Liver: The Chicago Drinking Play at the Public House Theater in Wrigleyville. It’s not a play as much as it is a series of sketches interspersed with drinking games. Apparently it’s been running in various iterations since 2006 or so, and the longevity is well-earned.

The sketches center on the many drinking cliches of adult life, from the guy who throws up at the bar to the girl who turns into a different person when she tastes whiskey. Particularly entertaining are the several improv-style games in which a single scene is repeated several times, each time under the influence of a different alcohol. The show even nail the different gender tendencies with relatively fresh takes, considering how often comedy has gone to that particular well.

The cast is solid (especially Josh Dunkin and Sherra Lasley), and the sketches are surprisingly tight. The intermission drinking games are also pretty entertaining and keep the crowd engaged, though the performers’ real strength is in the scripted scenes.

The theater features a full bar that is surprisingly reasonably priced, and the seating is more akin to a comedy club than a theater per se. You’re bound to have someone in the crowd that is drunker than you, but by all accounts they won’t be able to ruin the show.

Recommended, and good for group outings.