Men With Lower IQs at Greater Risk for Alcoholism

New research from a team of Swedish scientists indicates that young men who drink alcohol in risky ways commonly have intelligence quotient or IQ scores that are lower than the average scores for their age peers.

Statistically speaking, young men are unusually likely to consume alcohol in dangerous ways that promote exposure to alcohol use disorder (alcohol abuse/alcoholism) or a range of harmful, short-term drinking outcomes. In a study published in February 2015 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers from two Swedish institutions assessed the potential connection between young men’s risky drinking behaviors and IQ scores. These researchers concluded that any given young man’s dangerous drinking practices are associated with declining IQs.

Young Men and Problematic Drinking

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) keeps track of the number of young people in general (and young men in particular) who participate in heavy drinking or binge drinking, the two most common underlying sources of alcohol-related harm and alcohol use disorder. The term heavy drinking describes a daily or weekly pattern of alcohol use that makes alcohol use disorder considerably more likely to occur, while the term binge drinking describes a pattern of short-term alcohol use that produces rapid intoxication. SAMHSA figures from the year 2013 indicate that young adults in their early to mid-20s (between the ages of 21 and 25) drink heavily more often than the members of any other age group, in addition to binge drinking more often than the members of any other age group. In terms of age, the second-highest rates of heavy drinking and binge drinking appear in young adults in their mid- to late-20s (between the ages of 26 and 29).

SAMHSA separately follows binge drinking trends in boys and men, as well as in girls and women. Young adult men between the ages of 18 and 25 go on alcohol binges much more often than their female counterparts (a rate of 44.4 percent in 2013 vs. 31.4 percent). An even larger gender disparity in binge drinking occurs in men and women over the age of 25. Nearly 31 percent of men in this older age group binge drink, compared to 14.7 percent of women.

Intelligence Quotient

Intelligence quotient is a measurement of aspects of higher-level mental function that include the ability to reason, the ability to think in spatial terms and the ability to use language in an accurate and fluent manner. Psychologists use a series of standardized testing procedures to determine how any given person’s IQ score compares to the score found in other individuals in his or her age group. When all scoring adjustments are applied, the average person has an IQ of 100. People with IQs above this score generally have more fully developed intellectual abilities than their age peers, while people with IQs below this score generally have less fully developed intellectual abilities.

IQ Scores and Alcohol Problems

In the study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute and Centre for Social Research on Alcohol and Drugs used a large-scale project involving 49,321 Swedish men to explore the connection between IQ scores and relative chances of consuming alcohol in risky ways. All of these men underwent IQ testing at the age of 19, 20 or 21 as part of their induction into military service. As part of their service induction, all of the participants also submitted information on their typical patterns of alcohol use and overall level of alcohol consumption.

IQ scores can be calculated on a curve commonly known as a bell curve. The researchers concluded that, among young men who consume alcohol, every step toward the lower part of this curve (the lower end of IQ spectrum) is associated with increased participation in binge drinking, as well as increased participation in heavy drinking. Compared to light-drinking young men, heavy-drinking young men have an approximately 120 percent higher chance of falling one step down the bell curve. Binge-drinking young men have a roughly 109 percent higher chance of falling a step down this curve. Based on these findings, the study’s authors link both overall alcohol consumption and level of participation in binge drinking with the outcomes of IQ testing in young men.

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