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Alcoholism – the things you should know

I keep returning to the Harvard Study of Adult Development and the book about it called Triumphs of Experience. There are so many interesting findings in that study, that I decided to break it up into a few blog posts. Go here for an overview about the study if you are unfamiliar with it. In this last post for now about this study, I want to address alcoholism.

One of the most surprising findings when digging deep into the data in the Harvard Study of Adult Development, is how much of the misery encountered in the unhappy people's lives was due to alcoholism. Here are some interesting data I took with me.

  • Alcoholism affects between 6 and 20 percent of all Americans at some point in their lives.
  • If you were a social drinker in college, you are five times as likely to die in lung cancer (15% chance vs 3% chance). There seems to be a strong connection between drinking and smoking.
  • Alcoholism is largely genetic. If a subject had alcoholics in his family, that doubled the chance that he would become an alcoholic. Children with alcoholic stepparents were not more likely to become alcoholics.
  • Another early sign that somebody has a higher risk of becoming an alcoholic, is that they can tolerate higher amounts of alcohol than others without hangover or vomiting.
  • Cultures where it is not socially acceptable to become very drunk, but where people casually drink low amounts of alcohol, for example when having dinner, have fewer alcoholics. People in the study who had parents and social heritage from countries like Italy, Spain or France were several times less likely to become alcoholics than people with heritage from countries where it is more acceptable to become really drunk, like Ireland or England.
  • The single most important factor leading up to a divorce in the study was alcoholism. 57% of the divorces had happened when at least one in the couple was abusing alcohol.

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