Do Cultural Values Influence Heavy Alcohol Consumption?

By Britni de la Cretaz 11/22/17

Researchers examined data from 74 countries to determine whether alcohol consumption could be correlated with different social values.

man binge drinking beer in pub

Do countries with certain values have heavier drinkers in their midst? New research is examining cultural values and their relationship with alcohol consumption—and finding that yes, there are certain cultural values that are related to higher levels of alcohol consumption.

The study was conducted by researchers from the UK and Portugal and published this week in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology.

What they found was that countries whose residents valued things like autonomy and harmony had higher levels of alcohol consumption than countries who valued things like collectivism and social hierarchies. The United States would be a country that values autonomy, whereas Japan is a country that values being part of a collective.

"Our results suggest that bodies like World Health Organization should prioritize tackling alcohol consumption in countries that are more autonomous and less traditional, and future research should be directed at further understanding the relationship between cultural values and alcohol," Dr. Richard Inman, from Lusíada University of Porto in Portugal, said in a release. Inman was one of the study’s authors.

To conduct the research, they used data from 74 countries and measured whether alcohol consumption for a given country could be correlated with different social values. The results showed that generally, the values of autonomy and harmony are positively associated with consuming alcohol, but hierarchy and "embeddedness" are negatively associated with alcohol consumption.

What makes this research different than studies that have been done before is that it seeks to identify cultural reasons that people imbibe, as opposed to personal or individual reasons.

Co-author, Bath University's Dr. Paul Hanel, said in a release, "Researchers could create similar profiles and models to help understand the cultural underpinnings for other risky behaviors such as smoking and drug taking, or health issues such as obesity."

For comparison’s sake, the World Health Organization says that excessive alcohol consumption caused more than 3.3 million deaths in 2012, which was 6% of all deaths that year. Meanwhile, smoking and inactivity, in addition to problematic alcohol intake, cause 70% of deaths worldwide.

Drinking can also contribute to other diseases like cirrhosis and liver disease, high blood pressure, and can cause fatal accidents as well.

In the United States, excessive alcohol use led to approximately 88,000 deaths each year from 2006 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.