Peak Booze

Are you part of Generation Peak Booze? In this episode, we dive into the factors behind the ups and downs in alcohol consumption in the U.K. and the U.S. over the course of the twentieth century, we explore the long-term health effects of peak booze, and we get a sneak peek at the synthetic alcohol of the future. Cheers!

When British science journalist Chrissie Giles looked at her drinking habits, they didn't seem particularly remarkable. Sneaking drinks at fourteen, vomiting in the dorm sink at university, spending her twenties getting wasted with her mates every weekend: that's just what everybody did. Right? But when she looked at the data, Giles realized that her generation represented a peak in British drinking, which has been on a downhill trend since 2004. Intrigued, she dug into the larger historical shifts behind the data, uncovering a story that ranges from a 1930s anthropological study of the pub to the impact of selfie culture today. We compare her findings with the data on drinking in the United States and draw on insights from neuropsychopharmacologist David Nutt to explore the effects of regulation and cultural trends on alcohol consumption.

This kind of analysis is not just of academic interest. As Nutt explains, alcohol is a toxin. In fact, he told Gastropod, "It is very hard to find an organ system in the body that isn't damaged by alcohol," and the social and economic costs of drinking "are way greater than those of any other drug." Despite its dangers, many of us continue to drink, charmed by alcohol's mood-enhancing powers and its useful role as a social lubricant. But what if we could enjoy all those benefits without any of the costs? Listen in to learn about Nutt's "synthalol," a synthetic alcohol replacement that sounds like science fiction—but might be closer than you think.

Episode Notes

How We Became the Heaviest Drinkers in a Century

You can read Chrissie Giles's story, "How We Became the Heaviest Drinkers in a Century," in full here. It was published by Mosaic, the digital platform of the Wellcome Trust.

The Pub and the People

Published in 1943, The Pub and the People is an intensely detailed documentary study of British pub culture in the 1930s by the social research group Mass Observation.

David Nutt's Synthalol

David Nutt is the Edmond J. Safra Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, London, chair of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, and former chair of the U.K. government's Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs. He is the author of Drugs: Without the Hot Air and is currently pursuing the development and marketing of a synthetic alcohol replacement.

The Ultimate Pint Glass

Learn about the Design Council's Ultimate Pint Glass Initiative to prevent injuries from glassing here.

Alcohol Consumption Data

In the United States, the National Institutes of Health maintains per capita consumption data; in the U.K., the Institute of Alcohol Studies provides a useful summary of the data trends over time. American alcohol consumption in the 1830s is documented in this Ken Burns film on Prohibition, made for PBS.