Thursday, February 17, 2011

Booze Roundup for Science

Gather 'round, pardners, it's time to take a look at what science has to say about alcohol.  Scientists love to study booze.  I've known my share of scientists, and in my experience that's roughly equivalent to the fact that most therapists are in therapy and most hairdressers have terrible hair. 

(On the other hand, the high rate of alcoholism among priests is a sign that God loves us and totally wants us to drink to excess.  And that includes putting wine in the Communion cup and not grape juice, I'm looking at you, mainstream Protestant denominations.  Jesus says, lighten up.)

Anyway, here are a pair of recent studies about drink and drinking, as funded by your tax dollars and/or college tuition payments:

"Sleep Following Alcohol Intoxication in Healthy, Young Adults," published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 

In a nutshell, women experience more sleep disruption than men when they drink before bedtime. 

I found this study to be flawed in many important areas.  First, although the researchers adjusted for weight, drinking experience, and other variables, the article doesn't mention whether they took into account the fact that men will sleep through just about anything, drunk or sober.  Here are some actual things that have awakened me but not my Beloved Spouse sleeping beside me:  baby crying, hailstorm, neighbors arguing loudly in Spanish, cats mating outside bedroom window, sonic boom from space shuttle Columbia blowing up (yes, really).

Also, this study defined "drinking to intoxication" as a blood alcohol level of 0.11%.  Well, duh.  Who can fall asleep when there's only 0.11% alcohol in your blood?  That's about the time I start craving Doritos, and I don't know about you, but I just can't sleep soundly knowing there are unconsumed Doritos lurking about. 

Finally, researchers chose young, healthy women as their focus group.  Awww, did the poor widdle twenty-something have a couple of glasses of wine and lose an average of 20 minutes of sleep compared to the control group?  Please.  My goddamn mattress is older than you, and it causes me to lose a hell of a lot more sleep than that every single night.  I'd wager your serial sex partners, distorted self-image, and inflated sense of importance disrupt your golden slumbers more than those tequila shots you love.  If they don't, they should.

"Rutgers Alcohol Problem Index Scores at Age 18 Predict Alcohol Dependence Diagnoses 7 Years Later," also published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Eighteen-year-olds who exhibit problem drinking-related behavior are more likely to be problem drinkers at age 25.

If you're a Finnish twin (the population studied here), your teenage drinking patterns predict the likelihood of your becoming a 25-year-old alkie.  I'd call this a study with limited practical application outside the population of Nordic multiple births.  Johannes and Matti Korhonen of Helsinki, you're on notice. 

The finding that having a drinking problem in high school correlates with still having a drinking problem eight years later is actually kind of important, in that it demonstrates the consequences of early-onset stupidity.  It also bolsters my belief that teenagers can't be trusted to make important decisions about their lives, and neither can adults, and therefore we need to implement a system of robot-based social controls to regulate human behavior throughout the life cycle.  Reading between the lines of the abstract, I'm pretty sure that's the conclusion of the researchers, as well.

In any event, this well-meaning study fails in my opinion.  Predicting later results from early behavior is a well-established cornerstone of cognitive-behavioral psychology - nothing new there.  A better trick would be to predict excessive alcohol consumption in adults whose total high-school experience with alcohol was a single bottle of MD 20/20 at the cast party following the drama department's production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.  What are the warning signs?  How can we predict the long-term effects?  Why did it have to be the guy I had a huge crush on who ended up driving me home while I cried and prayed I wouldn't throw up in his Porsche?

All I know is, when I was 25 I hardly touched alcohol, apart from a couple of beers at a ball game and a few shots on New Year's Eve.  I never even kept booze in the house until years later.  After Precocious Daughter was born, in fact.  After she learned to talk.

Now there's a correlation that would make a good scientific study.  I volunteer to be a subject.  I'll even bring my own materials.  In the name of science.

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