In every population, some people have serious problems with alcohol, but this happens more in some populations than others.  In particular, populations with low or nonexistent historical exposure to  alcohol have higher rates of alcoholism.  Hunter-gatherers  all seem to have serious problems with alcohol.  The Hadza, Bushmen, Pygmies, Australian Aboriginals, Andaman islanders, and Eskimos all have a high percentage of lushes.

Now this all makes sense: alcoholic beverages are mostly made from domesticated plants, and hunter-gatherers didn’t have much exposure to them. Alcoholism has high heritability, and it’s bad for you:  you’d expect it to decline over time, be less common in populations that have been drinking for a long time, all else equal.  In East Asia, many people have a bunged-up version of acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, the enzyme that  converts acetaldehyde into acetate (after alcohol has been converted into acetaldehyde).  This makes drinking so uncomfortable that carriers are highly resistant to alcoholism. They don’t need to buy Antabuse –  the effect is built-in.

Distribution of the ALDH2*504Lys allele

Figure 1

This Chinese mutation was definitely selected, maybe for protection against alcoholism, but possibly for some other reason.

So in China a lot of the story is in one gene, but in other populations, resistance to alcoholism is polygenic.

All this is fairly obvious, but my impression is that cultural anthropologists, and for that matter right-thinking people generally, don’t think that genetics has anything to do with different rates of alcoholism in different populations.  Probably libertarians don’t think it does either, although they undoubtedly have different wrong ideas about this.

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151 Responses to Firewater

  1. reiner Tor says:

    Greg, what is your take on Russian alcoholism? (Even Scandinavians seem to be heavy drinkers, I’m not so sure about the alcoholism rates.)

    They are drinking heavy liquors (mostly vodka), which are relatively recent (medieval?) inventions. It could be a case that nobody is well adjusted to heavy liquors, but people with long, dark and cold winters tend to drink more liquors (relative to beer and wine) than people with more fortunate climates, hence we see the high levels of alcoholism in peoples with colder winters. (It’s probably the winter that matters, because several months of heavy drinking could already make you an alcoholic.)

    It’s also possible that heavy liquors were the first beverage they were exposed to, because grapevine needs a better climate, and possibly even beer was introduced only later.

    • Glossy says:

      In medieval Russian literature the protagonists’ drink of choice is myod, aka mead. It was alcoholic and made from honey. I have a feeling that the same is true of Scandinavian sagas.

      • reiner Tor says:

        Mediterraneans have probably had five thousand or more years of exposure to alcoholic beverages, so being exposed to alcoholic beverages around the 10th or even 5th century is still not very early. Besides, I think the supply of mead depended on the supply of honey, which I assume to have been more limited than that of grapevine – or am I mistaken?

    • Peter says:

      As I understand it, Russian alcoholism and binge drinking is mostly limited to men. That would suggest a cultural explanation.

      • gcochran9 says:

        Because men and women are the same?

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Here’s an environmental effect. Russian life expectancy peaked in 1960. Both male and female life expectancy declined to 1980, probably because of increased access to alcohol. Gorbachev, who doesn’t drink, campaigned against alcohol and life expectancy shot up, almost back to the 1960 peak. After his influence was removed, women reached an equilibrium, but men have steadily increased their death rate.

    • AKarlin says:

      This is one case where I think the primary explanation is cultural.

      As hinted at by Douglas, the alcohol epidemic as we know it began around 1960-1965, when life expectancy in the USSR plateaued out and stopped its prior convergence with that of Western Europe.

      The USSR, and in particular the Christian/Buddhist areas within it, were not the only regions to experience this alcoholism epidemic – much the same happened in most of the rest of the Eastern bloc, most prominently in Hungary.

      Re-Scandinavia: Finland had an alcoholic epidemic in the 1970’s-80’s (though nowhere near as severe as the one in Russia from the 70’s through the 00’s). It still remains the West European country with the highest alcohol-related mortality.

      So all in all, it is probably some combination of (1) living in a centrally planned economy where cheap vodka becomes affordable and (2) living in a colder climate.

      • neil craig says:

        Possibly not so much a colder climate as a one with less intense sunlight. That low sunlight and consequent lack of vitamin D is a major killer is proven by the fact that light skin, which evolved only about 50,000 years ago, is not just dominant but endemic north of the Mediterranean.

        I suspect if every Russian took a vitamin D tablet every day they would be a much more cheerful lot.

    • Grey Wanderer says:

      Would people who get a bigger hit from adrenaline than the average person tend to do more dangerous stuff than the average person – and as a result run a higher risk of injury from accidents?

      Would people who get a bigger hit from alcohol than the average person drink more and also drink stuff that brings the hit fastest – and as a side-effect run a higher risk of alcoholism?

      I think so.

      It’s not surprising that both of these effect men and women differently because eggs are expensive and sperm is cheap so any kind of “gamble” or “risk” related genes should (?) have a differential selection pressure between the genders. Females should (?) trend to the safer average position. (I think that makes sense?)

      Whatever the explanation is, it has to explain both Whiskey and Vodka, not just one or the other.

  2. j3morecharacters says:

    I dont know how to reconcile the distribution of the Chinese alcoholism resistance gene (see map) with the per capita alcohol consumption map ( . South Koreans, Japanese, Mongolians should be sick at the mere sight of alcohol, yet they are ranked high on the table. My experience in China tells me that the Chinese drink a lot hard spirits, when they shouldnt. They told me that they learned drinking from Russian technical experts.

    • reiner Tor says:

      Hungary is left out. I checked the data in the source, and apparently we would get the bronze medal in total consumption. I’m proud to beat the Russians, though not sure how reliable are the data. (I’d tend to think Hungarian data are more reliable than Russian data.)

      Yesterday evening I was drinking in the company of people of multiple nationalities/ethnicities, among whom there was a Russian lady. She didn’t drink too much, but offered me some top quality Русский Стандарт, which I have to recommend to everybody as one of the finest spirits out there. The Russian lady told me she used to drink a lot of vodka, but got sick of it so many times she is now unable to even bear the smell of it. I don’t know to many Russians, so I cannot tell how prevalent that is, but could be a useful adaptation, if it were very widespread – which apparently isn’t. Not with me: my first ever getting sick from alcohol was bad quality vodka, and I couldn’t bear the smell of vodka for several years. But it faded away, and now vodka is my favorite spirit. (It certainly helped that since then I haven’t gotten sick from it.)

    • RS says:

      > South Koreans, Japanese, Mongolians should be sick at the mere sight of alcohol, yet they are ranked high on the table.

      A big question is are you homozygous, and does more of the dehydrogenase get produced with acetaldehyde present (I think yes it does at least in some extent).

      If you’re hetero, and the peinliches metabolit does in fact induce the enzyme, it’s going to keep on inducin’ — again, maybe not to unlimited extent — because of the stuff not getting cleared well by the variant enzyme. If you’re homo, then you are probably one of those NEAs who can take no or almost no alcohol.

      I’m not surprised E-Asians or NEAs like clear spirits. If you come to the table with an acetaldehyde problem, no need to pile on. Copious red wine will run you over: tannins, allegedly. At 20 I did not know of this and landed in bed until ten or eleven …PM. Beer’s about twice as sickening as clear spirits IME — must be some other mildly toxic phytochem (surely from the herbs not the grain) or fermentation product.

      I see the allele has done well in Japan — perhaps Jomon admixture makes it more needful than it would otherwise be.

      • Spike says:

        It’s the fusel alcohols mostly. They’re part of the fermentation process and can be minimized by good temperature control, but not completely removed. Any distiller worth his salt knows knows how to extract them from his mash during the distillation process.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      If there weren’t heavy drinking, there wouldn’t be selection for the gene.

  3. Mika says:

    And yet alcoholism is rampant in China, Korea, and Japan, and people in these countries drink vastly more than they do in the US. There are lots of article about alcoholism in Japan and it is not only common, but unremarkable and culturally acceptable to see dozens of passed out salarymen in the early hours of the morning every day. In China and Korea, part of every businessman’s life is to go out for frequent binge drinking sessions with the boss where huge quantities of aclohol are blithely consumed.

    This is an interesting example – there are dozens – of the limitations of looking at things through the genetic lens. Genetically, this shouldn’t happen – except that it does. Rather annoying, really. This is really the trouble with looking at anything through too theoretical a lens – you become so enamored of your pet theory that facts can come to mean less than observed reality. I see it in a lot of fields, especially IQ research.

    • SMERSH says:


      Are there a significant percentage of people in these countries who cannot function socially or hold down a job because of alcoholism?

      • Sandgroper says:

        In north-eastern China, you can’t function socially or hold down a job if you *don’t* drink. (I’m only semi-joking.)

        But the drinking patterns are different – in my experience, even most heavy drinkers in China only drink as an accompaniment to meals. When the eating stops, the drinking stops – that probably saves a lot of them from an early grave. That’s not absolute, I’ve known exceptions, but it’s pretty much the rule.

        If people look at the frequencies on the map, there is no conflict between the data and observed behaviour. It’s not anywhere close to fixation anywhere in China, Japan or Korea. You can usually tell the people who have it – if they try to drink, they turn bright red in the face. It can be variable within families – some siblings may have it, while some may not. That’s not too hard to figure out – it’s expressed in some but not others.

      • Sandgroper says:

        I shouldn’t over-generalise – businessmen may go just binge drinking with the boss rather than toasting at meals, as Miko says, but in China at least, that seems to be an acquired rather than traditional pattern.

      • Sandgroper says:

        Mika. Sorry.

      • Mika says:

        Yes, if you look at a nuanced picture of the evidence then theory does not contradict observation. I suppose its possible that the people without this gene in Asia drink heavily, thus skewing the rates of alcoholism high. The problem is that if you looked at only the genetic evidence and believed, for instance, that genes were the most salient factor in any explanation for group behavior, you might reasonably come to a very different conclusion about the drinking habits of Asians. Lets say we only have genetic evidence for some ancient historical group, we might reasonably conclude that this population drank very little if we thought genetic factors were so salient – and it might be a very erroneous conclusion. I find this kind of faulty, simplistic thinking very prevalent these days, unfortunately, even in very elevated circles, and renders much of the evo-psyche speculation you see largely useless.

        The fact of the matter is reality is more messy and chaotic than we like to admit, and we often try and fit it into neat little tidy boxes. For instance a commenter on another post here says getting killed in battle is 50/50 – this is clearly untrue, factors like training, hardihood, preparation, quality of arms, etc play a huge role. Yet those things can’t really be quantified, just given a “vague” value, so this commenter ignores them, resulting in a heavily distorted picture of reality. Looking at things sceintifically can – not must – result in developing habits of thought where only quantifiable data have existence and where the results of some process we regard as scientific become more important than observed facts. And I find this kind of thinking to the intellectual handicap of our age – one sees it everywhere, even in the top circles. I bet historians will remember the intellectual products of our age as having very little enduring value.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        It used to be far more of the business culture in the United States for men to go out together after work and get drunk. I am certainly not condoning the return of this culture but it worked really well in Washington DC. Republicans and Democrats would fight all day but at night they would go out and get shitfaced together. Cooperation between these two parties has decreased tremendously in part because they don’t go out and get drunk together anymore. Strange but true.

      • little spoon says:

        I think this is an important point. I actually think alcohol tolerance is one of the most important factors in a society’s ability to compete in the modern world. Psychologists have given us the concept of IQ and then conscientiousness, the two major reliable predictors of success of an individual and especially of a society on average. But if there had to be a third most important factor across populations (not for an individual), I would actually say it was alcohol tolerance. If you look at the societies who functioning poorly- aboriginals, native americans- many of them suffer from inability to avoid alcohol addiction. The interesting thing about NAs is that they don’t actually drink that much! See the table in the link below-

        Whites actually drink MORE than native americans. However, whites are not destroyed by this habit. In fact, they function very well with this habit because they have been used to alcohol for thousands of years. Those who could not function while drinking have largely been culled already.

    • misdreavus says:

      Sure, but only if you define alcoholism by consumption of spirits per capita, which is totally silly.

      The sort of “alcoholism” that prevents someone from holding down a job or fulfilling day to day responsibilities tends to be rarer in east Asia than it is in the west. Just look at Japan or Singapore. Jesus. Not exactly primitive shantytowns with dilapidated shebeens scattered here and there, are they?

    • Steve Sailer says:

      My impression is that the Japanese get drunk on relatively few drinks. You could check consumption statistics. Osaka salarymen may stagger around like U. of Wisconsin frat boys, but they don’t necessarily drink like that.

      In fact, there’s some social pressure to act drunker than you really are in Japan because in a culture of order and deference the main exception is for people when they are drunk. If you say something to your boss cold sober, the Japanese are extremely good at picking up on the slightest hint of not being with the agenda, so it can get you in big trouble. On the other hand, if you are both acting drunk, you can get away with a lot more. In Japan, much of the exchange of criticism needed to keep business organizations running is reserved for afterwork when everybody involved is well-lubricated.

      • Abelard Lindsey says:

        That’s right. Many Japanese I know have faces that become beat red after drinking one or two beers. They get quickly drunk on very small amounts of alcohol. The Japanese drink frequently, often everyday, but they do not drink a large amount each time. This is why they do not become alcoholics like Westerners do.

        Drinking is necessary in Japan to relieve stress in the work environment. They have their enforced group behavior in the office (and after work) that can only be alleviated by being drunk. It is this enforced group behavior that is quite unpleasant for “Gaijin” (such as myself) who have worked in Japanese companies. It can even be unpleasant for the Japanese themselves. It is also well-known that the gaijin like to go out every once in a while and just get absolutely pissed (drunk).

      • md says:

        East Asians get drunk easier/faster because their version of alcohol dehydrogenase (the enzyme that metabolizes ethanol by converting it into acetaldehyde) is less efficient.

      • misdreavus says:

        “East Asians get drunk easier/faster because their version of alcohol dehydrogenase (the enzyme that metabolizes ethanol by converting it into acetaldehyde) is less efficient.”

        more efficient, not less.

        I believe the difference in catalytic efficiency approaches two orders of magnitude.

      • Matt says:

        Ethanol has a 3 step metabolism – ethanol to acetaldehyde to acetic acid.

        East Asian folks tend to carry an allele of acetaldehyde dehydrogenase that is less efficient (or at least slower, efficiency being about energy->work conversion rather than time) at converting acetaldehyde to acetic acid. Acetaldehyde consequently builds up in carriers’ bodies at a higher rate.

        Whether East Asians have higer frequency variants more efficient, I don’t know, they may do.

        Having more efficient ethanol metabolism and less efficient acetaldehyde metabolism would maximize the effect where acetaldehyde builds up in the body and makes drinking feel bad.

    • Gilbert P says:

      Sandgroper: “When the eating stops, the drinking stops.”
      Ah. That would explain the 12 course meals.

  4. j3morecharacters says:

    As Mika said, “Rather annoying, really.” The books say that cannot drink alcohol nor milk, this because they lack lactase. In the eighties Israel wanted to make friends with the Chinese and established a model demonstration dairy farm near Beijing. I protested, the Chinese will get sick. I was wrong and shamed, they love milk drinks and ice cream, soon they were crowding the farm and buying Israeli heifers. Today milk is a big business dominated by New Zealanders. I still wonder how this can be.

    • RS says:

      I think there are lactase pills?

    • Konkvistador says:

      Humans love plenty of modern foods that are bad for them. Milk drinks and ice cream seems like the sort of thing where you tongue overrules your gut when it comes to your brain being conditioned what to eat.

    • reiner Tor says:

      I think most dairy products contain very little or no lactose. Milk consumption by lactose intolerant people will mostly cause mild symptoms, so they can keep consuming them even if it causes bloating or flatulence. Given how many outright poisons (like cola) are consumed by people around the world, I wouldn’t find it surprising that the Chinese consume milk drinks which they are unable to digest.

    • Spike says:

      I’m pretty lactose intolerant and could drink the milk in Japan. I think they treat it with something.

      • Sandgroper says:

        You can get lactose free milk. Lactose tolerance can persist into teenage and even early adulthood among ‘lactose-intolerant’ populations. ‘Milk drinks’ can have a much lower lactose content than regular cow’s milk. Even among Chinese, not 100% are lactose-intolerant, and even lactose-intolerant adults can consume some (varying) level of lactose without ill effects. The levels their digestive systems can cope with and the severity of any adverse symptoms vary a lot between individuals. My northern Chinese wife can drink a medium-sized glass of cow’s milk with no ill effects at all, and often does for nutritional reasons – I don’t know if she is one of the lucky few % of lactose-tolerant Chinese adults, or whether her digestive system is just coping with a moderate quantity. Our daughter has been confirmed by genetic testing to be lactose-tolerant, like me (mostly northern European). Many Chinese parents encourage their lactose-tolerant kids to drink a lot of milk, for nutritional reasons. Häagen-Dazs are one of the sponsors of the Chinese tennis player Li Na, and their ice cream is regarded as a sought-after luxury good in China. Per gram, ice cream tends to be higher in lactose than regular milk, but the quantity consumed tends to be less. A lot of lactose-intolerant adults learn by trial and error how much their digestive systems can cope with before any excessively adverse symptoms kick in.

        As Mika says, reality is messy.

      • athEIst says:

        Lactaid is milk that lactase has been added to. The lactase breaks down lactose to glucose and galactose. Since glucose, and especially galactose, are sweeter than lactose, Lactaid is even better than milk. If you like sweet.

  5. RS says:

    I notice the distro on the mainland falls off abruptly from 0.36 to 0.22. Is that something you see with a lot of alleles? Does it represent spread via local marriage/relocation versus seeding by long-distance migrants?

    • Sandgroper says:

      There’s an anomalous hotspot around Qingdao which I assume is just an erroneous data point (or some side effect of the Qingdao Brewery)(joke), rather than relocation – there’s no obvious reason why more people from Guangdong should relocate to Qingdao than to Beijing.

      It would be interesting to correlate the allele frequency against genetic substructure in Han, but I’m sceptical it’s that simple, otherwise you’d expect to see higher frequency among some south east Asian populations. It looks like spreading by inter-marriage on the margins.

      • Sandgroper says:

        I’m assuming it’s selected for because it is favourable to reproductive fitness. Infectious hepatitis is at high frequency in southern China, so I’m wondering if it’s associated with that, and spreading via marriage on the margins.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      If resistance to the alcohol produced from domesticated plants was proportional to the length of time those domesticated plants were farmed in a particular region then you would expect the distribution to follow agricultural spread i.e. the regions that got agriculture first and longest would have the biggest resistance, the regions who got it later would have less and the regions who got it last would have the least.

  6. RS says:

    > In China and Korea, part of every businessman’s life is to go out for frequent binge drinking sessions with the boss where huge quantities of aclohol are blithely consumed. && This is an interesting example – there are dozens – of the limitations of looking at things through the genetic lens. Genetically, this shouldn’t happen – except that it does.

    Every last one? Every other source I’ve heard says some NEAs basically can’t drink at all — or certainly, cannot get drunk. Also, consider my speculation above, about how the heterozygote may not dispose of acetaldehyde 50% slower, necessarily — it could be, say, 25%.

    Even in Japan and SE China where frequency is highest, you will only have 1/9 homos. So Japan should be 1/9 homozygotes, China as a whole ~1/50, Fujian region or whatever that is there, 1/9.

    Even 25%-impaired metabolism of acetaldehyde should be quite fitness-enhancing. It’ll be a difference you can feel, behavior will respond (semi-consciously), and fitness follow. No need to tea-total it ; you’re x% less likely to get sacked for binges, and y% less likely to become a real addict and darwinian nonentity. That’s fitness in a bottle.

    • md says:

      Even 25%-impaired metabolism of acetaldehyde should be quite fitness-enhancing

      Or fitness reducing. It’s a highly reactive molecule and is thus a toxin that literally kills brain. So there might be some stabilizing selection going on.

  7. RS says:

    I guess Japan isn’t as dark as I thought — the high amount of triangle marks kind of deceived my eyes. So nix what I said about Japan.

  8. Patrick Boyle says:

    Alcoholism is just the tail of the health effects distribution. Alcohol is actually good for you at the proper dosages. No that’s not right. Alcohol is great for you.

    Paracelsus was right. Everything at some dosage level is a poison. Alcohol can be excellent for your heart function. Teetotalers have more heart disease and higher mortality than do ‘social drinkers’. This has been known for some time and is not in the least controversial. The studies have had sample sizes of thousands. The results have been statistically significant at very low probability levels. The beneficial effects of alcohol are large. So large that until recently before the widespread use of beta blockers and alpha channel blockers there was hardly anything better available for your heart than a Martini.

    This doesn’t seem to be something that your doctor is likely to tell you however because the mortality curve is ‘U’ shaped. Moderate alcohol consumption makes you live. Immoderate alcohol consumption makes you die. And it’s worse than that. For most people drinking a little leads to drinking a lot. So many people slip quickly from ‘social drinking’ into ‘binge drinking’.

    So I think the genetics picture of alcoholism you have presented is over simple. Alcohol has had many benefits to peoples and societies and they all may have different distributions racially. That means Asians may have less serious alcoholism, but they may also have different reactions to alcohol’s other effects. Simple consumption rates are insufficient. You would think that a mutation that allowed a population to drink a little but not a lot would bring great success. Maybe there is such a gene?

    I just read all the Hornblower novels. I was struck by the observation that some sailors preferred a flogging to being denied their daily grog ration. Cutting a man’s daily alcohol was considered a very serious punishment. The British sailor was not expected to be able to resist rum. If it was available they drank themselves insensate. We also know that few of Jack the Ripper’s victims probably even noticed being eviscerated. The levels of gin consumption amongst the street walkers of the day was prodigious by modern standards. But presumably those tars and whores of only a century or two ago had the same genes for booze as we do today. Or am I wrong?

    • melendwyr says:

      I’ve never seen a presentation of “low levels of drinking are good for you” that convincingly managed to demonstrate that the effect is not the result of the social interaction aspect of social drinking rather than the alcohol, per se.
      Our bodies produce alcohol as a byproduct of our metabolism. If frequently low-level doses were actually good for us, presumably our bodies could simply produce more / break down less. Yet our ‘state of nature’ metabolisms break it down rapidly.
      Can you explain that?

      • gcochran9 says:

        It’s a way to avoid water-borne pathogens.

      • melendwyr says:

        Very funny, Dr. Cochran. But those studies always took place in First World settings, IIRC. I barely worry about cholera at all.

      • Patrick Boyle says:

        My mistake. I thought the literature was sufficiently well known that no one would doubt it. Apparently not. I guess I’ll have to provide a few citations.

        I think Greg is referring to the Roman practice of mixing wine with water. I need to research if Rome only adopted that practice after they had instituted municipal aqueducts. Presumably at the time of Romulus their water sources were as pure as the streams in barbarian northern Europe. Did they mix wine in their water then? I don’t know. More stuff to look up.

        I’ve been busy heeding Greg’s advice to research if the Puppeteers bred the Kzin for foolishness as I had claimed, or for docility as he had claimed. Unfortunately I threw out all my Ringworld and other Niven books last year along with my technical books. But then I realized that I couldn’t possible be wrong.

        It’s not Science, it’s Science Fiction.

        Most of Man-Kzin books were not written by Niven at all. In the early stories the Kzin are portrayed as being fierce and technologically advanced but foolish – they always attacked too soon. In the middle books like Ringworld it is revealed that the Puppeteers had bred the Kzin somehow. Niven wrote that they bred them for docility but I (in my as yet unwritten Man-Kzin novella) further explain that they also bred them to be impatient and foolishly attack too soon.

        I enjoy being right.

      • Jaim Jota says:

        As Greg mentioned, alcoholic beverages like beer and wine are effective against most waterborne pathogens, so drinkers enjoyed selective advantage in places without clear spring water. That may explain part of the success of Alexander’s invasion of Asia, because he and his troops were drunk most of the time. Also the British sailor had to have his daily portion of rum or port. In fact, tapwater is so bad here that

        Pull out the stopper!
        Let’s have a whopper!
        But get me to the church on time!

    • athEIst says:

      Teetotalers have more heart disease and higher mortality than do ‘social drinkers’.
      This is because the teetotalers in addition to people who have never drunk includes those who drank heavily and HAD to stop..

      • jorge videla says:

        do you think the people who do these studies are that stupid?
        when everything you can think of is controlled for there’s still lower mortality for moderate drinkers.

    • engleberg says:

      Re: Kzin evolution: Kzin females are non-sentient (in the early books, everything gets more complicated later) and successful Kzin males get harems sized by the Patriarch’s favor. Spayed females provide Heroes with sex without breeding. You’d expect this to make Kzin evolution turn on a dime, given a Felix Austria Patriarch.

  9. Glossy says:

    Mediterraneans are not prone to alcoholism, yet Arabs are some of the world’s strictest teetotalers. Why do they ban something that doesn’t seem to harm them much?

    Perhaps this doesn’t have anything to do with health. All religions have posts and dietary prohibitions. Perhaps for religions the fact of banning things is more important than the precise nature of what’s beeing banned.

    • Glossy says:

      OK, what I meant to say was “all religions have fasts and dietary prohibitions.”

    • Spike says:

      Arbitrary prohibitions is a good way of distinguishing yourself from neighboring tribes. As for Arabs being the strictest teetotalers; visit Las Vegas and you’ll see why we call alcohol, alcohol.

    • engleberg says:

      The Koran prohibits getting drunk. Christians had to have communion wine. Arabs went to Christians for wine after the first Jihad, and by tradition all wine got to be Infidel. In public. Arab culture assumes that what is done in public had damn better be done The Straight Way and what happens in the harem, stays in the harem. Or at least wears a bag over its head on the street.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “Mediterraneans are not prone to alcoholism, yet Arabs are some of the world’s strictest teetotalers. Why do they ban something that doesn’t seem to harm them much?”

      That doesn’t follow at all. Agriculture came relatively early to the meditteranean and *not at all* to a lot of Arabs so if the theory that alcohol resistance follows crop agriculture is correct then you’d expect Arabs to have a very low resistance to alcohol and so banning it would make perfect sense.

      • Anthony says:

        Depends whether you consider Syrians and Iraqis to be “Arabs”.

        But peninsular Arabs? Yeah – not much agriculture in 1AH.

  10. Matt says:

    Alcohol use disorders don’t seem to be too low in Korea or China, compared to the European average

    Not sure how this is calculated though – is having an alcohol abuse disorder in Germany going to involve the same thresholds as in China?

    On the other hand liver cirrhosis is certainly real“WHO says that the rate of alcohol use disorders was 2.25% of Japanese men, and 0.13% of women, while in the USA it was double that number, at 5.48% and 1.92% respectively. In South Korea, an astonishing 13.1% of men but just 0.41% of women had problems with alcohol. The death rate by liver cirrhosis is also very telling. In Japan in 2005 it was 11.9 men and 3.6 women per 100,000 people. In the USA it was 13.5 and 6.1, and for South Korea it was 33.1 and 6.9 respectively. In other words, Korea has almost 3 times more people dying from alcoholism than Japan does.” But, East Asians do seem to relatively high levels of issues with liver cancer and diabetes, relative to their overall health, so there might be some underlying genetic reason behind this.

    Re: shanty towns, IIRC Korean (Seoul) has quite a few (as does China), but they are being bulldozed.

    Not sure about the idea that right thinking people don’t admit the influence of genes here. Genetics seems to be brought up in pretty much every article relating to alcohol consumption prevalence in the world, so it’s hard to see how right thinking people don’t talk about it. Seems like one of the only genetic elements right thinking people zoom in on pretty much immediately and feel free to talk about (with intelligence or not).

    Some cultural or at least environmental element has to be important, or large alcohol disorder disparities between Korean men and women (as above), or between Ashkenazi Russian Immigrants to Israel and “native Israeli” Ashkenazis ( wouldn’t exist.

    Alcoholism tends to be low in the global South as well as in long term agriculturalists – I wonder if this might be because high sugar plants with natural fermentation make for lower barriers to alcohol in the global South (e.g. Palm toddy), so selection happens earlier and with stronger force.

    • gcochran9 says:

      If you suggest that genetics is part of the story with alcoholism among the Navajo, any fresh graduate of the Ivy League is likely to call you a racist. The Navajo would not.

      • melendwyr says:

        That’s an interesting suggestion. Are Ivy Leagers demonstrably as ignorant and bigoted as you suggest? I have a hard time believing anyone would deny such an obvious truth. (Even considering all of the truths I know people generally deny…)

        • gcochran9 says:

          I haven’t seen a careful survey, so I could be wrong, but that’s my impression. Maybe we can get better information on just how purblind our future leaders are. I would guess worse than any other time in American history. But again, I could be wrong.

      • reiner Tor says:

        Alcoholism is often seen as a moral failure. Being genetically unable to cope with it exonerates the Navajo. Therefore, I would be surprised if Ivy League graduates wouldn’t believe this explanation.

      • athEIst says:

        I noticed the absence of Amerindians(other than Esk-oops Inuit) in your opening paragraph.

      • Matt says:

        Hmm. That’s true, but I think if they had anything like the neat little Asian alcohol flush story for Navajo-European differences, I think they might change their mind pretty quickly.

        Unless they have taboo where talking about why “Asians” are in theory less vulnerable to alcoholism than Europeans for genetic reasons is acceptable, but Asians can’t be less vulnerable to alcoholism than Navajo…

  11. Jim says:

    Matt – I’ve read that although diabetes is more common among East Asians than whites, the average severity among East Asians is less than among whites. The data I’ve seen is that both diabetes and alcohol-related conditions have higher prevalence for Amerindian and Hispanic populations in the US compared to whites. Nevertheless overall Hispanic and Amerindian mortality is lower than white mortality.

    • Matt says:

      Overall mortality from diabetes and alcohol related conditions?

      Re: overall mortality from all causes differences between Hispanics and Amerindians (and East Asians), I have wondered whether this might be in part due to tuning down of the expression of growth hormone (consequences including smaller size, relatively high percentages of body fat relative to lean and bone mass), since this is related to general reduced cancer prevalence and to longer life in mice. No selective story for this though.

  12. Jim says:

    I’m utterly dumfounded how people can believe that anything happens in the human body that is not strongly connected to genetics. It’s amazing that supposedly highly educated people don’t seem to know anything about the enormous advances in the scientific understanding of what life is that have come about in the last century and particularly in the period after WW II. It’s as if they were back in the 18th century when scientific understanding of the nature of living things was essentially zero.

    • jorge videla says:

      no. the problem is that only lip service is paid to “heritability isn’t malleability”, and human beings are different from all other animals in the malleability of their behavior.

      it’s already uncontroversial that blood pressure, insulin sensitivity, bmi, etc. are as heritable as iq, or nearly so, yet EVERYONE can be thin, anti-diabetic, and have a bp of 100/60 and at any age!

      there was the blank slate thesis. galton, pinker, et al.’s negation. the aufhebung is that what everyone needs is the environment best for him where he can thrive. when you see someone who is fat and stupid, think that such a person is in an environment which is toxic for him, but which may be good for you.

      • misdreavus says:

        “it’s already uncontroversial that blood pressure, insulin sensitivity, bmi, etc. are as heritable as iq, or nearly so, yet EVERYONE can be thin, anti-diabetic, and have a bp of 100/60 and at any age!”

        That’s crap, too. But even I don’t need to explain why.

      • jorge videla says:

        you just don’t know what you’re talking about.
        it’s ABSOLUTELY 100% TRUE!

        Click to access 6659.full.pdf

        bp goes DOWN with age among the trobriand islanders, and many studies have confirmed that however long primitve peoples live they never develop risk factors for cvd.

    • misdreavus says:

      “no. the problem is that only lip service is paid to “heritability isn’t malleability”, and human beings are different from all other animals in the malleability of their behavior.”

      Surely you know by now that the statistical gene-environment interactions you speak of are mercifully rare, and that if we ever found a “special environment” (barring microsurgery on the brain and miracle nootropic drugs) that could successfully help someone with a 70 IQ learn statistical thermodynamics and Boolean algebra, those who *do* understand those subjects today would most certainly leapfrog miles ahead of him within that same environment? Of course you don’t.

      Sure, there is such a thing as an ideal environment for each and every genotype. But within each and every environment, some genotypes are largely superior to others!

      • jorge videla says:

        that claim has never been examined even if you think it has. you’d have to exclude the pathological cases which make up the majority of those with very low iq. this includes disorders likes down’s syndrome and brain damage. and one might say the issue can never be totally resolved, because some may be like a rare flower which will grow only on the southern slope of mt kailash. but it can be answered to my satisfaction—if you had enough twin iq data (with iq in sds relative to each twin’s society) what you would find if you plotted heritability vs some measure of socio-cultural distance between twins is a curve which would start out at .69 or .58 (recent minnesota data for twins raised apart, median age 41, for wechsler and raven’s respectively), and would fall steadily to almost zero or a figure not distinguishable from 0.

        and the farther away the individual’s iq or whatever trait is from the mean the farther away is his “true score” in genetic terms. that is if you score 160 on an iq test the chance your identical twin would score lower isn’t 50%, it’s 96%. the same goes for low iq theoretically, except the plot of subtest scores vs g is not homoscedastic (which proves g is rot, btw).

        if einstein had met his theretofore unknown identical twin, who’d been raised on a ranch in namibia by german parents, and both were give an iq test their scores would be a lot farther apart than had his twin been raised in germany and switzerland or wherever by two ashkenazi parents.

        i could go on. get back to me after you’ve sent saliva to bgi.

      • jorge videla says:

        “Surely you know by now that the statistical gene-environment interactions you speak of are mercifully rare, and that if we ever found a “special environment””

        what does “mercifully rare” mean? and i don’t know that. the raven’s was flynned by 20 pts iirc!!!

        those who would explain this with nutrition also believe in bigfoot. and the afrikaner iq was flynned by 10 pts, and they’ve caught up to the british.

      • misdreavus says:

        Regarding GxE, I speak of intra population variance, not the first moment of the probability distribution — of COURSE you can shift the entire bell curve to the left or the right by adjusting some environmental parameters, because virtually every single phenotype is plastic. Decades of experiments on domesticated organisms prove that “magical environments”, by and large, simply do not exist — and even when they do, what’s the point of hunting for them when the special snowflakes in question are so fragile? If commonly attributed sources of environmental variation such as parental income, access to “good schools”, breastfeeding, parenting etc turn out not to do anything at all, you are shit out of luck. Forget about discovering a special teaching method that can teach “leaning disabled” Charlie how to balance a paycheck.

        By the way, for what it’s worth, Ernst Rutherford did just fine when he was raised on a sheep farm in New Zealand. I doubt Albert Einstein’s twin raised in Namibia would have fared much worse.

      • jorge videla says:


        you don’t appreciate that whatever environment prevails among, say, adopted children in minneapolis IS itself special. and consequently what something like the minnesota study finds is only the fitness for that special environment.

        it seems you also don’t understand how different humans are from all other living things. the ashkenazim were undistinguished in anything save religious nuttery until the haskala. and it was only much later that they came to outperform so spectacularly. i’m sure the flat earth society, i mean hereditarians, have an explanation for why newton wasn’t jewish but einstein was, but it’s rot. i know one of them explains the industrial revolution as the result of higher iq. i wonder how he’d explain the germans to the romans. rot on!

        • neil craig says:

          ” an explanation for why newton wasn’t jewish but einstein was”

          Because Jews were expelled from England in 1290. Under Cromwell a small community was allowed, unofficially, to settle but not enough to have a statistical effect.

          There could, perhaps, be a question of how England got to be a significant European leader in science without Jews, on the other hand even there she only became the dominant European power long after Cromwell. Alternately it could be that until the Enlightenment Jews were so discriminated against that their numbers didn’t matter anywhere – they just couldn’t rise to the top in any circumstances. That would tend to explain why Poland was never an intellectual hive.

      • jorge videla says:

        if it’s true as h & c claim that european jews had living standards like minor nobility for most of their histroy why wasn’t there a jewish leibniz? a jewish gauss? if they were barred from europe’s universities what stopped them from setting up their own? why wasn’t mathematics a subject at the yeshivot? the excuse must be the enlightenment came to the jews later. they remained religious nuts long after european gentiles gave that up.

      • misdreavus says:

        IQ tests are designed to segregate ability from actual performance, and it is hardly surprising that powerful institutional forces can present a formidable barrier to success for a people who are capable of succeeding. According to your imputed reasoning just about everybody has the genetic potential to succeed in the NBA, because basketball didn’t even exist until the late 19th century, and furthermore, blacks weren’t even allowed to compete as professional athletes until the civil rights era. Total horse shit. Is something wrong with your brain? Nobody ever claimed that genetics was everything, or that the scientific revolution itself was biologically predestined.

        That being said, we’ve got groups of people in the United States today who have access to universities, adequate nutrition (you can raise a litter of half a dozen illegitimate offspring on an EBT card and feed them 4000 calories per day if you choose to), public libraries, internet access, K through 12 education, and much more — privileges that are beyond the wildest dreams of even the privileged classes of yesteryear, and yet they still fail miserably. How do you account for that, buster?

      • misdreavus says:

        Well two can play at this game

        “if it’s true as h & c claim that european jews had living standards like minor nobility for most of their histroy why wasn’t there a jewish leibniz? a jewish gauss?”

        Gee, who was the LeBron James of medieval era Benin? I guess there really aren’t any significant differences in height, musculature, and body morphology between the races.

        CHECKMATE, genetic determinists!

      • jorge videla says:

        “IQ tests are designed to segregate ability from actual performance”
        false. achievement and ability cannot be separated. for example, from the psychometric pov rather than the pc pov, the sat and tests like it ARE iq tests. that is they correlate with self-described iq tests as well as those correlate with one another.

        “According to your imputed reasoning…”
        false. the ashkenazim achieved NOTHING as far as non-religious intellectual endeavors go until the last 100 years or so. the much overestimated spinoza is the only exception i can think of. and is his work really non-religious? is guide to the perplexed non-religious?
        when newton said, “if i have seen father than other men it…” all of those giants were gentiles going all the way back to euclid. and btw, had there been any iq tests in the 4th c ad the greeks would have topped the charts. not today.

        “How do you account for that, buster?”

        i’m a “racist” as far as the high end of achievement goes, and i’m opposed to affirmative action based on race, but support it based on class. i think the reason why there are no black nobel laureates in the sciences or why there’s only one black grandmaster is partially explained, but not entirely explained, by genes. the same goes for black performance in the sprints. i think the black white gap is partially biological, but that this is magnified by culture, the same for the ashkenazim. (h & c really missed the ball on that one. if any culture could produce smarter people it would be the “exegetical religion par excellence”.)

        i’m a volunteer for the bgi study, if i didn’t mention it. and i can say that of the 100s of people i’ve met, including people smarter than me, i’ve never had the feeling that the difference between us was irremediable. that is, with the exception of obvious pathological cases. i guess i’ve been lucky.

        one way in which the environment is special and the same for almost all children is that half of their waking hours are spent at school. school for me was always hateful, an uncomfortable desk, people i didn’t know or didn’t like, getting up in the morning, etc. it used to be the british upper class educated their children privately, hence the term “public school” meaning independent school in the uk. this is how the prevailing environment is “special”.

        recently turkheimer has found that the heritability of iq for children raised in poverty is…drum roll…0! and the twin studies have a restricted range of environments.

        you don’t have to be a blank slater marxist or whatever to know that the hereditarian narrative on psychological traits is rot. and btw, there are no blank-slaters. this is a straw man of right wing nut jobs.

      • jorge videla says:

        that should have been 4th c bc.

        i’ve heard it 100 times from a relative. whatever the psychological trait he says, “it’s like height.” that’s just not true. it might be true for dogs, but not for men.

        here’s an article that might interest you, or blow your mind:

      • misdreavus says:

        “false. achievement and ability cannot be separated. for example, from the psychometric pov rather than the pc pov, the sat and tests like it ARE iq tests. that is they correlate with self-described iq tests as well as those correlate with one another.”

        point taken, but I think the distinction between “fluid” and “crystallized” intelligence isn’t very useful at all — when you really think about it, just about everything is learned, and nothing is innate, and it turns out that “culture fair” tests such as the Raven’s have seen the greatest gains through the Flynn effect. blah blah. even so, no matter what you shake your nagging stick at, some people simply learn faster than others. You can change the social environment all you want, but I somehow doubt Archimedes would have turned out to be learning disabled if we cloned him sometime in the distant future.

        “the ashkenazim achieved NOTHING as far as non-religious intellectual endeavors go until the last 100 years or so. the much overestimated spinoza is the only exception i can think of.”

        Spinoza was a Sephardic Jew, and you are trolling with your nonsense again. Do you want me to list some counter examples?

        Either way, Jewish emancipation throughout most of western Europe was not complete until the end of the 19th century, so your point is moot.

        “recently turkheimer has found that the heritability of iq for children raised in poverty is…drum roll…0! and the twin studies have a restricted range of environments.”

        Heritability for all traits (including height) is moderate to low during childhood and continues to rise up to adulthood. and?

        Twin studies indeed suffer from a restricted range of environments, but that’s not the issue here. So are the longitudinal adoption studies, to some extent or another, but luckily for your side we are capable of testing to what extent children will change when they are rescued from crack houses, trailer parks, and the like and reared for the greater part of their formative years in middle to upper class homes. And the results, needless to say, are quite dismal. Why is it that the children of mediocre parents adopted by successful couples turn out to be so mediocre themselves?

        “and btw, there are no blank-slaters. this is a straw man of right wing nut jobs.”

        Oh, yes they do exist. do you want me to cite some examples from the literature?

      • jorge videla says:

        spinoza and maimonides were sephardim, but one lived in holland and the other some time in spain. they were the only jews i could think of who’d done anything prior to 1800. the ashkenazim had done NOTHING.

        i’m surprised someone who knew any “tina” addicts would even have heard of spinoza.

        you’re focusing on the pathological cases as somehow proof that stupidity is irremediable. i’ve said many times that in these cases it is.

        why is it that bajan and bahamian blacks so grossly outperform afro-americans far beyond what one would expect simply from their being self-selected immigrants? why is it the blacks with iqs > 130 are more often female?

        why is it that korean japanese do even worse than american blacks?

        unlike you i’m not an ideologist. all i want is the truth.

  13. Steve Sailer says:

    Hollywood movies treated Prohibition with contempt, but have been, on the whole, highly respectful of the War on Cocaine. Starting with the “Heaven’s Gate” over-budget fiasco in 1979-1980, Hollywood opinion turned sharply against cocaine. A Mediterranean lad like director Michael Cmino did not at all have genetic defenses against cocaine.

  14. reiner Tor says:

    With Russians, the other thing is the popularity of other drugs like heroin or Krokodil. The latter one is totally beyond me, how someone would want to try a drug that turns you into a zombie in a few months. Either the negative effects (and/or prevalence of) Krokodil are greatly exaggerated, or there must be something going on with Russians and drugs in general.

    • Chris says:

      I’ve heard that krokodil is cheap, and people turn to it after they’re already wrecks and can’t afford anything better.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      risk-taking behavior ~ more recently barbarian

      as risk itself gets you high if you have a strong reaction to adrenaline

  15. RS says:

    > Our bodies produce alcohol as a byproduct of our metabolism. If frequently low-level doses were actually good for us, presumably our bodies could simply produce more / break down less. Yet our ‘state of nature’ metabolisms break it down rapidly.
    Can you explain that?

    Epidemiology is just about the softest of sciences, because the possible confounds are always so myriad, but . . . yes I can explain how that could be. Our metabolisms could be a century out of date.

    I have seen claims that heart attack (and probably stroke?) were almost unheard of 100 years ago. While I wouldn’t hang my hat on those claims, I will hang my hat on hunter peoples having zero atherosclerosis: so says an intelligent review paper I once read. So my point is of course that light alcohol use could be good in a world where, as I recall, most men start to develop atheromas around age 30.

    • jorge videla says:

      no. athero starts from childhood, but i read it was undetectable in 50 y old hgs in bolivia who smoked like chimneys. but what is it? diet, more sun, less stress, more exercise, or maybe even a high “parasite-load”. there would be no selection for constant mild intoxication and the effect of alcohol consumption on mortality is only past an age which too few reached until the last 100 years.

  16. neil craig says:

    I found that map fascinating. When did the mutation first happen? I assume it was somewhere on the south China coast but look at the outliers in the Pakistan coast and what I assume is around Basra – this suggests some very early and substantial seagoing contact, much more extensive than by the Silk Road which shows up less on the genetic map. Also that early Japanese contact with China was mainly seagoing with the south rather than via Korea.

  17. RS says:

    >> Even 25%-impaired metabolism of acetaldehyde should be quite fitness-enhancing

    > Or fitness reducing. It’s a highly reactive molecule and is thus a toxin that literally kills brain. So there might be some stabilizing selection going on.

    Good point. But since the allele-bearer’s intake of EtOH is probably lowered, acetaldehyde exposure might be about the same as in the non-bearer.

  18. Patrick Boyle says:

    Someone doubted that alcohol had heart heath benefits. It took me less than five minutes to find these in Google scholar. Alcohol in high dosages is certainly bad for you and there is some justice in terming it ‘Demon Rum’ but it does help several heart problems.

    …substantial evidence now suggests that moderate alcohol consumption has cardioprotective effects. It not only reduces the incidence of fatal ischemic heart disease, but it improves outcome in patients who have other risks for coronary events and go on to have myocardial infarctions.

    Moderate ethanol consumption (1-3 drinks/day on 5-6 days/week) has a favourable effect on vascular disease-related mortality and morbidity [especially ischaemic heart disease (IHD)]. This cardioprotective effect may be due to significant effects on cardiovascular risk factors such as high density cholesterol (HDL) concentration (HDL protects from IHD) and an inhibition of platelet aggregation (increased platelet aggregability predicts coronary events).

    The combination of protective and harmful influences of alcohol consumption results in a U-shaped mortality curve. A true protective effect of moderate intake of alcohol is likely, because of consistent findings in many large, well-conducted studies of diverse population samples and the apparent specificity of the protective effect for CHD and possibly atherosclerotic-thrombotic brain infarction. There are also biologically plausible mechanisms whereby the protection might be conferred. Alcohol has been shown convincingly to raise HDL subfractions which have been found to be protective against CHD, and it may also provide protection by an antithrombotic effect.

    • jorge videla says:

      but one’s risk for all athero diseases can’t be less than 0, and it ca be reduced to that without drinking anything.

      it could be that alcohol lowers risk simply because it is a source of calories with a negligible glycemic index usually. so substituting a cuba libre with diet coke for a slice of whole wheat bread may increase insulin sensitivity.

  19. Difference Maker says:

    The colonization of the south took 1,000 years of empire despite political control already in place at the beginning of that millennium. As late as the Tang, poets referred to “rivers of plague”, “jungles full of tattooed savages” and the “gate to Hell”.

    The south was a place of exile for officials, and one after another records an early death.

    Hepatitis B is endemic among the Chinese, and eating habits have their contribution. If one is an enjoyer of alcohol and has hepatitis, well

    In earlier Chinese archaeology we see numerous alcoholic drinking vessels, and in early literature and poetry references to alcohol are copious. This contrasts with the remarkably high incidence of built in Antabuse today

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “In earlier Chinese archaeology we see numerous alcoholic drinking vessels, and in early literature and poetry references to alcohol are copious. This contrasts with the remarkably high incidence of built in Antabuse today”

      Maybe the one followed the other i.e. the longest history of crop agriculture -> highest incidence of alcohol protection.

  20. James says:

    I don’t understand the comment on libertarians. Are libertarianism and a basic understanding of genetics mutually exclusive?

  21. jorge videla says:

    more behavioral genetics rot.

    what is alcoholism? the abos get in trouble for it, but they actually drink less than white australians. my source is paul theroux’s happy isles.

    what continent is and has always been by far the wettest? the same which has been in the ascendancy for 2500 years. europe.

    besides addiction is a 100% social disease. as the author of trainspotting has said, junkies don’t get off heroin because they have nothing else. it’s the same for alcohol.

    • misdreavus says:

      Not only do your comments not make a lick of sense, but in the rare instance that they are lucid enough to merit even a sardonic reply, they are totally full of shit

      “besides addiction is a 100% social disease. as the author of trainspotting has said, junkies don’t get off heroin because they have nothing else. it’s the same for alcohol.”

      I want every jackass who seriously believes this to go on a binge of Tina over the weekend and tell me how they feel Monday morning. (If you need any help procuring a dealer, go snooping around your local gay neighborhood — sooner or later they will latch onto you like dung beetles on camel turds.)

      If you think drug addiction has nothing to do with biochemistry, go prove it, buster.

    • misdreavus says:

      A good friend of mine had everything to lose by feeding his addiction. Of course, that didn’t stop him from prostituting his body to 50 year old men and burglarizing houses to afford his next “fix”.

      If you were to ask a sociologist why he did it, he’d probably attribute it to homophobia and the rigors of discovering one’s queer identity as a LGBT “person of color” in a white supremacist and heteronormative society. His youth pastor would blame it on gay demons. Both are mental incompetents, and there are plenty where they came from.

    • misdreavus says:

      Come to think of it, my friend also has a history of heroin addiction and alcoholism in his family. Even before he found the Tina he was a heavy abuser of alcohol.

      Well I don’t know whom to blame for that one. Was it “society” (whatever the hell that means) or was it the dark lord Beelzebub? Because as we all know, it can’t possibly be in his genes.

      • A Erickson Cornish says:

        It is always difficult to tell what the unstated rules of this sort of thing are, since they make no sense and are not publicized or anything, but my impression was that it is currently acceptable in right-thinking society to assign a large causal role to genetics and/or biochemistry when discussing an individual’s propensity for addiction, but unacceptable in the case of group differences in addiction rates, etc. This is somewhat different than the case of, say, IQ, where even individual differences must generally be attributed to anything besides genetics in order to avoid right-thinking opprobrium. I could be wrong though, since these standards, aside from making no sense empirically, also makes no sense in terms of thematic coherence.

        Unrelated, but along with the less functional version of acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, most East Asians have the B or C alleles for the enzyme ADH1, which can be up to 100 times more efficient than other variants at converting ethanol to acetaldehyde. I have not looked up the genomic signature around ADH1 alleles in East Asians, but being super efficient at converting ethanol to its toxic metabolite acetaldehyde while also being very inefficient at converting acetaldehyde to acetic acid would seem to imply that selection at the ALDH2 was related to the alcohol pathway, and not the result of selection involving its role in some other pathway.

        Anyway, if you cannot convince someone that genetics might have something to do with the descendants of a people who have been fermenting alcohol for thousands of years, have a series of genes at high frequency involving the efficient metabolism of alcohol and inefficient removal of its chief toxic metabolite, and show genomic evidence of recent selection at the relevant loci being less susceptible to alcoholism than groups with virtually no experience fermenting alcohol, there does not seem to be much point in continuing to talk/argue with them. I used to think it would be difficult for people to come to terms with new genomic evidence overwhelmingly demonstrating the lack of validity of their most cherished beliefs. I was wrong: as I think Greg has said before, even the clearest of evidence might change the minds of dozens of people worldwide.

      • A Erickson Cornish says:

        Oh, and I just read part of your conversation with jorge videla, misdreavus. He is definitely in the category of people not worth arguing with.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “more behavioral genetics rot. what is alcoholism? the abos get in trouble for it, but they actually drink less than white australians.”

      That is evidence *for* the theory.

      • jorge videla says:

        what theory?

        no one becomes addicted or stays addicted just ’cause, just because they have such and such genes. the same goes for clinical depression and anxiety. the same is the case for all psychiatric conditions which have no organic cause.

        i have no doubt that some are more susceptible to the following for genetic reasons:

        1. cerebellar atrophy caused by alcoholism
        2. cancer caused by cigarettes
        3. shell-shock caused by war experience

        but alcoholism, smoking, and war are all bad!

        one has a choice. it’s not just a matter of science or the facts. when the malady is not 100% heritable does one locate the pathology in individuals and their genes or does one locate the pathology in the individual’s society? modern civilization is bad for your health, physical and mental. now the developing world is almost caught up to the developed world in life expectancy. life expectancy at birth in the solomon islands is 74. how can that be? because once you’ve wiped out infection as a cause of death almost all the remaining maladies are caused by civilization itself. americans now spend more on healthcare than they do on food. and yet, ideologists like h & c would likely have you believe that obesity, hypertension, diabetes, etc. are in the genes of the afflicted. IT’S ALL ROT!

    • jorge videla says:

      i didn’t make myself clear. addiction is biological, and some are more likely than others under identical circumstances to become addicts of some kind. i’m not blaming anyone. very often there is no one to blame. sometimes bad things happen to good people for no reason at all. but “society” is much more than the sum of its members. blaming society doesn’t mean blaming the powerful. whether you’re a homeless crack addict or a bilderberger or POTUS you have no control over the direction society.

      what i meant was what trainspotting’s author meant. if you’ve got something better to do with your life and you can’t do it addicted, you quit.

      people take drugs because THEY WORK! because their lives suck, and they are hopeless that anything can be done about it. the problem is never the substance per se. never!

      • misdreavus says:

        “people take drugs because THEY WORK! because their lives suck, and they are hopeless that anything can be done about it. the problem is never the substance per se.”


  22. Greying Wanderer says:

    If alcoholism protection among a population is related to length of time under crop-agriculture then the rates of alcoholism among populations should also correlate with the rates of things like wheat allergies or rice allergies or whatever allergies relate to whatever the local staple was in that region.

    If the basic idea if correct then the average for a very large region like China would likely mask dramatic differences between people from the fertile river valleys (with the longest history of crop-agriculture) and people from the hills, mountains, swamps and deserts (with a shorter history of crop-agriculture).

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      Although according to this rice was first domesticated in the Pearl River valley c. 8000+ years ago (or the Yangtse as there seems to be some dispute).

      Whereas the high spot for this allele seems to be the hilly bit in between the river valleys

      so that would mess up the [degree of alcohol resistance ~ centuries of crop agriculture] theory unless there was a particular reason why rice cultivation in that hilly in-between region was different to the river valleys.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        Although then again

        “All species of wild rice are wetland species: however, the archaeological record implies that the original domestication of rice was to move it into a more or less dryland environment, planted along the edges of wetlands”

        Early agriculture – before drainage – along the edges of river valleys as river valleys mainly swamps before drainage? – except in particularly well-drained spots – with expansion into the river valleys only coming later?

        “Wet rice farming, that is to say, including the creation of rice paddies, was invented in China about 5000 BC, with the earliest evidence to date at Tianluoshan, where paddy fields have been identified and dated.”

        So maybe upland dry rice farming had a 3000+ year head start on wet rice farming in the valleys and a consequent head start in selectign for alcohol resistance?

      • Sandgroper says:

        The highest frequency occurs among the Hakka.

  23. Abelard Lindsey says:

    right-thinking people generally, don’t think that genetics has anything to do with different rates of alcoholism in different populations. Probably libertarians don’t think it does either, although they undoubtedly have different wrong ideas about this.

    That’s not true. I’m libertarian and am well-aware that genetics plays a role in differences in alcohol sensitivity in different populations. I am even aware that genetics plays a role in differences in traits such as cognitive ability and executive function in different populations as well.

    Go to Malaysia and you’ll see what I mean.

  24. Rosenmops says:

    In this interview Professor Nick Martin talks about his twin research and alcoholism:

    Mongolia has a terrible problem with alcohol. Seems to be as bad as the that suffered by the native Indians in British Columbia–with individuals passed out on the street a not an uncommon sight (I have seen this in towns such as Williams Lake, B.C.)
    Here is an NPR article about alcoholism in Mongolia which claims it has economic causes. (Nonsense– it is genetic.)

    More about alcoholism in Mongolia

    The Mongols look quite a bit like BC natives, too.

    More random stuff:
    My son spent a few summers in a small town in the Canadian Arctic. He said that about 80% of the population smoke marijuana daily. If they can’t get alcohol or weed they will sniff gasoline.

    Scotland and Ireland seem to have a higher prevalence of alcoholism than more southern parts of Europe. But somehow they are still functional (compared to, say, an Indian Reserve in Canada). Perhaps there is some threshold rate of alcoholism above which social order breaks down, and their aren’t enough sober people to make things function.

    Poets and novelists of European decent seem to have a particularly high rate of alcoholism. Could it be that among Europeans there is some sort of trade off between protection from alcoholism and creativity?

    In most populations it seems that women suffer from alcoholism at a lesser rate than men. This makes sense because of fetal alcohol syndrome and the devastating effect alcoholism would have on infant care. The babies of alcoholic woman wouldn’t have a very good chance of survival in the days before social workers, etc.

    In Canada the high rates of alcoholism among natives is blamed on residential schools which makes no sense at all.

  25. reiner Tor says:

    I know a thing or two about Vietnam, and I noticed that Vietnam has two major concentrations of the allele, one in the North (around Ha Noi) and another in the South, south of Saigon and the Mekong. What seems interesting is that I especially know the region south of the Mekong, and people there seem to be drinking a lot. I heard from Vietnamese (both North and South Vietnamese) that the Southerners (especially from that southernmost region) drink a lot more than Northerners. Although I have heard of some cases of outright alcoholism, it seems to me that they are rather just heavy drinkers (mostly drinking beer, but also a spirit which they call “vodka” and is made from fermented rice, and containing usually 30 or 40% alcohol).

  26. reiner Tor says:

    Alcoholism is also rampant in my native Hungary. I now checked some data, and although I’m not sure how reliable they are, but apparently we are doing much worse than Russia. See here. Also this map from the Wikipedia cirrhosis page.

    First question is, could Gypsies be more vulnerable than white Hungarians? Seems like many of them have drinking problems. (And slot machine problems. And getting into prison problems. And committing crimes problems. Etc. But let’s focus on drinking for the moment.) I have only once seen a pregnant woman being drunk (and smoking), and she happened to be a Gypsy. (It might be a side effect of lower IQ, though. Someone drinking while being pregnant must be either an alcoholic or really stupid. Or both.)

    Second question, non-Gypsy Hungarians are supposed to be related to people living in the neighborhood. We should probably have a higher percentage of Neolithic Levantine farmers’ genes. How come we are protected much less than the Croats, Slovaks, or Serbs? Or Poles? (But neither are protected our eternal enemies the Romanians. Nor the Ukrainians.) And then, if all this is true, than how is it even possible that our life expectancy is roughly the same as our neighbors’ data?
    We used to be number one in suicide rates as well, and still have a very high suicide rate.

    • reiner Tor says:

      Some muslim countries (Egypt, Afghanistan) seem to be among the worst cases. How reliable are Afghani health statistics? On the other hand, Ireland seems to have no problem at all. Is it reliably so? Whence comes the prejudice that the Irish are drunkards? Or was it, after all, wholly cultural? Or is the whole data set so crappy?

      • reiner Tor says:

        Talking about prejudice. I have heard some bad things about us, but usually not that we were alcoholics. Although somebody on this thread mentioned Hungary (as a case of an alcoholism problem developing in the Eastern bloc), but how many people here have heard that Hungarians were drunkards? In Hungary, people usually have that stereotype about Russians (mostly, in no small part based on our experience with their conquering army in 1945), Scandinavians (less so), and basically that’s it. Oh, and people are vaguely aware that Western Europeans mostly drink less than Hungarians, which means we are cooler than them.

        So, are we considered drunkards elsewhere? Has anybody heard anything about it? I have never heard it, but maybe only because people are too polite.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “We should probably have a higher percentage of Neolithic Levantine farmers’ genes.”

      Wasn’t the hungarian plain very pastoral – cattle-based?

  27. j3morecharacters says:

    Yes, Tor (Tibor?), people is polite. Pls. hear Hungary’s national poet Petofi Sandor’s opinion on the subject. Kurta Kocsma A Falu Vegen (A small saloon at the village’s end):

    • reiner Tor says:

      My moniker comes from the Wagner opera Parsifal, where Parsifal started out as a poor fool, enlightened by compassion – “Durch Mitleid wissend, der reine Tor”. So it means “poor fool” in German.

      Petőfi Sándor’s poem is not at all about drinking or drunkenness, unfortunately online translators don’t work well with it (see Hungarian text here), but this is essentially about how poor people hate the landowning class but respect each other. At the beginning there’s a short graphic description of everything going silent, except the saloon, also a description of the drinking and loud music in the saloon. Then a messenger of the local lord comes and tells them to stay quiet, the lord cannot sleep – people tell him to go to hell with his lord, and get even louder. However, next comes a poor guy, telling them that his mother is ill, and needs silence – people immediately stop the noise, silently drink their glasses, and go home. Not exactly alcoholic or even drunk behavior.

      I would really be interested in whether anyone heard stories of Hungarians being drunkards. Also any explanation about the data – how can Somalia or Afghanistan have a major alcoholism issue when they are Islamic. (Or possibly it’s from other drugs – khat in Somalia and opium in Afghanistan? But khat is not very harmful.)

      After checking the maps on liver cirrhosis and alcohol related deaths, on the same website there was also an article about Russian alcoholism (including drinking industrial alcohol output, alcohol in perfumes etc. – none of these ever happens in Hungary), I’m not sure how reliable it is. I would still bet it’s a bigger problem in Russia than in Hungary, and the data are somehow wrong, even the data about OECD countries.

      • j3morecharacters says:

        “none of these ever happens in Hungary”
        Fiacskam, nekem hiaba magyarazod Petofit ! Vak pali mindent lat, szemuvegen at, te is vegyel fel szemuveget. I’m telling Tor to open his eyes. Hungary invented the borozo” where people stand and drink till they fall.

      • reiner Tor says:

        Mit szólnál hozzá, ha a többiekkel szembeni udvariasság okán angolul folytatnánk?

        Yes, alcoholism is rampant in Hungary (as already I mentioned), but the question is where it stands compared to others. Any Hungarian source would only clarify how we see ourselves, but I already know that, so that’s irrelevant. I would be interested in how people from other countries view us.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        “I would really be interested in whether anyone heard stories of Hungarians being drunkards.”

        Nope – all much more northern: Ireland, Scotland, Scandinavia, Finland, Russia etc.

      • Rosenmops says:

        I have never heard anything about Hungary having a high rate of alcoholism, though I have heard this many times about Russia.

  28. Greying Wanderer says:

    jorge videla
    “what theory? no one becomes addicted or stays addicted just ’cause, just because they have such and such genes.”

    If a drug has a bigger *effect* on some people than others then they could take the same or even a smaller amount and it will *effect* them more than the average making them more likely to become addicted than the average. People who have spent the longest time in a crop-agriculture environment may have developed more resistance to the negative effects than people who have had less time to adapt. If so then you might see correlations where populations with a high rate of alcoholism also have a high rate of allergies to the local staple crop(s).

    So if Aborigines – or any other recently forager population that has had very little time to adapt to alcohol – have a higher rate of alcoholism even though they drink less that isn’t evidence against genetics.

    An analogy might be adrenaline. People who get an above-average hit from adrenaline are likely to indulge in an above average amount of dangerous activities cos it makes them high and as a result are likely to have more accidents than the average.

    • Rosenmops says:

      In this interview Professor Nick Martin talks about his twin research and alcoholism:

      He says that people who get drunk easily are less likely to become alcoholics, where as those who can drink everyone else under the table are more likely to become alcoholics.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        “He says that people who get drunk easily are less likely to become alcoholics”

        Yes but he also suggests it’s because they drink less because it effects them more. But what if they don’t? This might be where the “life sucks” or broader cultural factors come in – a combination of a population with a low resistance and a population with reasons why they don’t stop drinking even though alcohol effects them badly.

        I’m thinking about the analogy with adrenaline and I wonder if *one* of the factors with alcoholism or other addictions might be that some people get a slow burn effect from a drug while some get a very strong rush effect and maybe those who get the rush effect are more susceptible.

        It also makes me wonder about allergies as if this idea is correct then rates of alcoholism and rates of grain allergies among a population ought to correlate. In which case i wonder if any treatments for grain allergies effect patient’s drinking habits?

      • Rosenmops says:

        I think you are correct about the strong rush making people more vulnerable. I have heard alcoholics talk about getting a rush as soon as the alcohol burns in their throat.

        Another interesting fact: some people, who were previously not alcoholics, have become alcoholic after having weight loss surgery. Maybe the surgical change to their digestive system allows them to absorb alcohol faster and gives them a rush.

  29. Greying Wanderer says:

    “The highest frequency occurs among the Hakka.”

    Dunno. I’m just messing with google, according to which
    – rice was originally a wetland plant
    – it was domesticated for hill growing around x BP
    – (i assume because pre-agriculture big river valleys were giant swamps)
    – wetland rice growing came in around y BP
    – it only spread to Japan and Korea around z BC

    I may have any or all of that wrong but if not it gives a ratio of x:y:z thousand years of adaptation to rice as a staple for the x, y, z populations which are
    – the people in the hilly region between the Yangtse and Pearl rivers
    – the people in the Yangtse and Pearl valleys
    – Japanese and Koreans
    so if the ratio of alcohol protection genes, face flushing genes and (inversely) rice allergies followed that x:y:z ratio that would be very neat.

  30. Gilbert P says:

    Several commentators have mentioned climate, agriculture, etc; but no-one has pointed out that early alcohol consumption likely involved zero manufacturing. Fallen, fermented fruits and berries, in warmer climates, are plentiful for foraging. Think African elephants off their heads on Maroela berries.

    • misdreavus says:

      That video is a proven hoax. Ethanol synthesis from the fermentation of fruits sub divo almost never approaches concentrations that are high enough to result in even moderate intoxication for a mammal that size, or even a mouse.

      For one, there’s far too much oxygen. Alcoholic fermentation is not a preferred source of energy for facultative anaerobes such as yeast because it is metabolically wasteful, and secondarily because ethanol is toxic to virtually all life — yeast just tolerate it better than other organisms. You’ve got to preserve the fruit in a semi-sealed container or in some other oxygen deprived state that is unlikely to occur in the wild, and even then, the pungent aroma would probably deter most people from consuming the resulting brew. The chances of an Australian aborigine acquiring even a light buzz after consuming rotten bush tucker are slim to none.

      • Gilbert P says:

        I’m not going to pick a quarrel about Chemistry. But I will say that I first heard the Maroela berry story shortly after the advent of colour film, when Youtube was a networking system for shooting packets of ‘data’ around the banking hall where I worked. The ‘myth’ was unquestioned in Africa. Maybe there is a relevant property specific to certain trees.
        As for the ‘pungent aroma’: You’re kidding, right? You’ve gone on at length above, and I think cogently, about the allure of narcotics. Let me put it this way, since you mention Australia: It is said of a man who really likes a beer: ‘He’d drink it from a swagman’s boot.’

  31. Esso says:

    To the confused libertarians: Around where I live everyone and especially their mother know that alcoholism largely heritable. Yet there are some who say that we, too, can have a mediterranean drinking culture if we just stop patronizing people, and abolish the state monopoly and limitations on availability. Doesn’t sound like social democrats to me. “Right thinking people” in general don’t have much problem with the hereditarian hypothesis here, in fact some are quite fond of it.

    Somewhat related: Prof. David Goldman of RIAAA found a mutation unique to Finns that is associated with lower serotonin levels, higher asociality and impulsive behaviour in males esp. when drunk. ~20% of Finns have it. (Or ~5%, or >2%, depending on the newspaper.) It might be a factor in what we call type II alcoholism: thrill-seeking and destructive aggro-drunks. Type I is normal alcoholics and “drunks of opportunity”, these have lower functioning dopamin systems.

    That NEA enzyme seems like a rather unfortunate adaptation to alcohol. As the type II olympic winning skijumper Matti Nykänen said after quitting detox: “I really can’t recommend Antabus to anyone. If you use it along with alcohol you start feeling sick as hell.”

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “Around where I live everyone and especially their mother know that alcoholism largely heritable. Yet there are some who say that we, too, can have a mediterranean drinking culture if we just stop patronizing people, and abolish the state monopoly and limitations on availability.”

      Very good point. The licensing laws in the UK were changed from the old ones based on common sense and experience to new ones based on blank slate nonsense.

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  33. James Graham says:

    Not long ago, on a televised discussion of alcoholism (probably on MSNBC) Dr Drew (an MD/Psychiatrist who has worked with alcoholics and who has his own program on CNN) mentioned that there was a strong genetic explanation for alcoholism whereupon one of the other guests went ballistic.

    It was Lawrence O’Donnell who angrily told Dr Drew that could not be true because he knew of many families where there was one alcoholic and all the other siblings were healthy.

    As I recall Dr Drew simply stared at O’Donnell, a graduate of Harvard who may have played hookey on the day his high school Biology teacher explained basic Mendelian genetics.

    What I got out of the exchange was confirmation of a little-commented upon phenomenon: a person who has been educated far beyond the level of his intelligence. Even if he never had an hour’s instruction in biology O’Donnell (like me, Irish American) should have noticed that not all redheads come from families where all the children have red hair.

  34. GoneWithTheWind says:

    It seems the same races/ethnicites that have a problem with alcohol also have a genetic propensity to have diabetes. Hmmmm.

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