Do Smarter People Drink More? What 5 Studies Say

iStock / iStock

The stereotype of the drunk genius is doggedly persistent: Think of Ernest Hemingway, who claimed to “write drunk, edit sober,” or you yourself, having a well-deserved glass of wine at happy hour after dealing all day with what sometimes feels like a world full of … not-so-bright people, to put it kindly. This connection has driven scientists to study the question: Are smarter people heavier drinkers? Here are five tipsy facts about drinking and intelligence—and what they add up to. (Spoiler alert: confusion.)

1. Smart women drink more, but not more than men overall.

College educated women in a UK study drank 86 percent more than less educated women in the same age group. Men, in general, drink 11.1 percent more than women regardless of their intelligence level.

2. Smart kids grow up to imbibe more.

Smarter children become heavier drinkers, according to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (U.S.),  the National Child Development Study (U.K.) and a study from Finland of twins. The last one found that the more verbal the kids were at 12, the more likely they were to be drinking at 16. 

3. Higher education = higher alcohol intake as you age.

The older you get, the more you drink—but only if you went to college. The National Survey on Drug and Health use found that among college graduates, 68.4 percent reported drinking versus only 35.2 percent of those who did not graduate high school.

4. Dumb men drink more, but total abstinence is linked to lower IQ. 

Not-so-bright men drink more, but only because they are likely to be binge drinking. And yet those who don’t drink at all have the lowest IQs. This is likely affected by “earlier consumption and other risk factors.” That is, at least some of them were drinkers who quit.

5. Finally, moderate drinkers have the highest IQ.

According to the same study of nearly 50,000 Swiss males, ages 18-22, moderation is the smartest course. 

Why is there so much contradictory research on the relationship between alcohol and intelligence? One problem may be that most studies rely on participants' self-reporting about their alcohol intake, which isn't the most reliable measure.

The jury may still be out on the connection between your smarts and your cocktails, but there is overwhelming evidence that heavy drinking has extensive negative health effects. So perhaps one fair conclusion to draw is that being more intelligent doesn’t necessarily make you smarter. Bottoms up!

Editor's Note: The original version of this story was missing #2. Sorry about that.