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Can alcohol make you happy? A subjective wellbeing approach
journal contributionposted on 2023-06-09, 01:18 authored by Ben Baumberg Geiger, George MackerronGeorge Mackerron
There are surprisingly few discussions of the link between wellbeing and alcohol, and few empirical studies to underpin them. Policymakers have therefore typically considered negative wellbeing impacts while ignoring positive ones, used gross overestimates of positive impacts via a naïve ‘consumer surplus’ approach, or ignored wellbeing completely. We examine an alternative subjective wellbeing method for investigating alcohol and wellbeing, using fixed effects analyses of the associations between drinking and wellbeing within two different types of data. Study 1 examines wave-to-wave changes in life satisfaction and past-week alcohol consumption/alcohol problems (CAGE) from a representative cohort of people born in Britain in 1970, utilising responses at ages 30, 34 and 42 (a sample size of 29,145 observations from 10,107 individuals). Study 2 examines moment-to-moment changes in happiness and drinking from an iPhone-based data set in Britain 2010–13, which is innovative and large (2,049,120 observations from 31,302 individuals) but unrepresentative. In Study 1 we find no significant relationship between changing drinking levels and changing life satisfaction (p = 0.20), but a negative association with developing drinking problems (-0.18 points on a 0–10 scale; p = 0.003). In contrast, Study 2 shows a strong and consistent moment-to-moment relationship between happiness and drinking events (+3.88 points on a 0–100 scale; p < 0.001), although associations beyond the moment in question are smaller and more inconsistent. In conclusion, while iPhone users are happier at the moment of drinking, there are only small overspills to other moments, and among the wider population, changing drinking levels across several years are not associated with changing life satisfaction. Furthermore, drinking problems are associated with lower life satisfaction. Simple accounts of the wellbeing impacts of alcohol policies are therefore likely to be misleading. Policymakers must consider the complexity of different policy impacts on different conceptions of ‘wellbeing’, over different time periods, and among different types of drinkers.
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Department affiliated with
- Economics Publications
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