Archives for Alcohol



What’s More Dangerous: Marijuana or Alcohol? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Imagine a fantasy world that’s exactly as the world is today except that two things are missing: alcohol and marijuana. And then imagine that tomorrow, both of them are discovered. What happens now? How are each of them used – and, perhaps more importantly, regulated? How would we weigh the relative benefits and costs of alcohol versus marijuana?

That’s the topic of our latest podcast, “What’s More Dangerous: Marijuana or Alcohol?” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) Read More »



Not Quite Alcohol-Free: A Mystery

The picture below is of a “beer” I drank at a friend’s house this past weekend.  It actually tasted pretty good; but why 0.5 percent alcohol, which surely added to the cost of production, but couldn’t, I think, have added to the taste? Including the minuscule amount of alcohol would certainly exclude teetotalers from consumption; and to get any kind of buzz a real beer drinker would need to drink at least several gallons. Read More »



How Drunk Is Too Drunk to Drive?

Our podcast “The Suicide Paradox” featured sociologist David Phillips, who spoke about his research on copycat suicides (a phenomenon he calls “the Werther Effect”). More recently, Philips has been studying drunk driving. Particularly, he’s been looking at drivers who are merely “buzzed” — with 0.01 percent blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) — and has found that the severity of life-threatening motor vehicle accidents increases significantly at BACs far lower than the current U.S. limit of 0.08 percent. In an email, Philips describes his latest research on buzzed drivers:

My current research, just published in Injury Prevention, shows that even minimally buzzed drivers (with BAC=0.01%) are 46% more likely to be blamed for an accident than are the sober drivers they collide with. This indicates that there is no safe level of alcohol for drivers: any amount of alcohol markedly increases the risk to drivers and their passengers. We reached this conclusion after examining an official, U.S. dataset of more than 570,000 car crashes. The findings have implications for drivers, passengers, police, judges, lawyers, insurance companies, advocacy organizations (like MADD) and regulatory agencies.

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Who Drinks More: Liberals or Conservatives?

Liberals, according to a new paper in the Journal of Wine Economics by Pavel A. Yakovlev and Walter P. Guessford of Duquesne University. The paper, “Alcohol Consumption and Political Ideology: What’s Party Got to Do with It?,” looks at alcohol consumption and voting patterns from 1952 to 2010 and finds that as states become more liberal politically, they drink more beer and spirits, although less wine. The abstract:

Recent research in psychology and sociology has established a connection between political beliefs and unhealthy behaviors such as excessive alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drug consumption. In this study, we estimate the relationship between political ideology and the demand for beer, wine, and spirits using a longitudinal panel of fifty U.S. states from 1952 to 2010. Controlling for various socioeconomic factors and unobserved heterogeneity, we find that when a state becomes more liberal politically, its consumption of beer and spirits rises, while its consumption of wine may fall. Our findings suggest that political beliefs are correlated with the demand for alcohol.

For all you politically conservative drinkers out there, check out one of our most popular podcasts of all time: “Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better?



College Campus Beer Pricing

There are three convenience stores in the student area west of the University of Texas campus.  Store A sells the most beer, and barely looks at student IDs; but it also charges the highest price of the three.  Store B is a bit stricter on fake IDs, refuses some underage students, and charges a lower price.  Store C has the best prices, but its clerks inspect IDs thoroughly. My student reports that nobody makes it through with a fake ID.  This near-campus oligopoly defines a new pricing strategy: lenience on IDs that is unsurprisingly related to the stores’ pricing policies. I wonder about differences in the characteristics of the patrons of the different stores.

(HT: JZ)



Which Foods (and Drinks) Get Better as You Eat More, and Which Get Worse?

A reader named Robb Stokar wrote in with the following question: “Which foods and/or drinks have the greatest diminishing marginal returns and which have the greatest increasing marginal returns?”

Wonderfully, Robb answered the question himself:

Diminishing food:  pancakes. Those first few bites of syrup-y and butter-y goodness are like angels singing. Then, about 1/2 way through, finishing the stack becomes a chore. And if you actually finish the stack, hello food coma. (Credit for the origin of this idea goes to my brother, Jason.)

Diminishing drink: Bloody Mary. First few sips are great, but by the bottom of the glass much of the spice has settled and you get a watery mouthful of pepper and celery salt.

Increasing drink: wine or whiskey, provided very little ice. Wine is self-explanatory, but some advocates say a little water “opens up” the whiskey and a cooler temperature eliminates that alcohol “bite.” I agree.

Increasing food: Indian or something similarly spiced. I believe that with each successive bite, the diner gets a better flavor profile and you can fully appreciate the dish.

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What Kind of Beer Is Most Likely to Land You in the E.R.?

A new study (gated) published in Substance Abuse & Misuse and summarized by Anahad O’Connor in The New York Times identifies the brands of beer most often drunk by people who end up in a hospital emergency room:

The study, carried out over the course of a year at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, found that five beer brands were consumed most often by people who ended up in the emergency room. They were Budweiser, Steel Reserve, Colt 45, Bud Ice and Bud Light.

Three of the brands are malt liquors, which typically contain more alcohol than regular beer. Four malt liquors accounted for nearly half of the beer consumption by emergency room patients, even though they account for less than 3 percent of beer consumption in the general population.

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Is Driving Drunk Rational?

I doubt this statement will shock you or light up the blogosphere, but drunk driving is bad. Our own Levitt has looked at the costs, and found that those who have had even one drink are seven times more likely to cause a fatal crash, while for those over the legal BAC limit the risk is multiplied by 13. This equates to a cost to society of more than 40 cents per drunk mile driven (2013 dollars), implying that a fine of $10,500 would be appropriate if drunk drivers were to bear the full cost of their actions.

The good news is that we have made tremendous progress. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, road fatalities due to drunk driving have dropped from 21,113 in 1982 to 9,878 in 2011. The decrease is even more remarkable given that total miles driven almost doubled during that period. So the drunk driving fatality rate per billion miles traveled has dropped from 13.4 to 3.4 in the last 30 years.

Some of this is due to general improvements in driving safety, such airbags and increased seatbelt use. But this is only a part of the equation. A suite of policies specific to alcohol has also been implemented, with considerable success. These have been recently analyzed by Susan A. Ferguson and Koyin Chang, Chin-Chih Wu, and Yung-Hsiang Ying, among others. Successful policies have included toughening laws and their enforcement, such as reducing permissible blood alcohol content (BAC) levels, especially for underage drinkers. Sobriety checkpoints are a very effective enforcement mechanism, particularly if properly publicized. Other policies that have been found to be effective are higher alcohol taxes (very), and to a lesser extent laws banning open alcohol containers in cars and higher legal drinking ages. Read More »