Do Atheists Drink More Than Religious People?

The video below, part of The Atheist Voice series, answers the question: Do atheists drink more?

It’s part of a larger series of questions dealing with atheism and morality. Do we swear more than religious people? Do we have more sex than they do? Are those inherently bad things?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the project — more videos will be posted soon — and we’d also appreciate your suggestions as to which questions we ought to tackle next!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Compuholic

    Do atheists drink more?

    I certainly hope so. There is nothing wrong with responsible use of recreational drugs. And even if it is unhealthy in the long run, it is not like we are the ones maintaining a fantasy of eternal life so we might as well enjoy the time we have…

  • SeekerLancer

    Do I drink more? I don’t drink at all actually.

    Do I swear more? Maybe I don’t know how you gauge how much people swear. I guess I swear a lot.

    Do I have more sex? Probably not any more and likely less than the average Christian.

    I suppose that it’s all irrelevant since the point is ultimately that I don’t find any of those things morally abhorrent,

  • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ TBJ

    thesth ansverr isth vess, I dink. Buttss yous all, um, yous all, umm, YOU!! Frak!! alllsthready knos dis. :)

  • Michael

    Are atheists more honest when it comes to self-reporting alcohol intake?

    The means to gathering data is very important in these cases, as demonstrated in an early-oughts study which showed among other things that half of all alcohol sold in Scotland is consumed. (Because it’s easy to get sales figures and some people lie about their drinking habits)

    • Godlesspanther

      Good point. Alcohol consumption is one difficult subject to get accurate reporting on. I drink a few beers almost every night before I go to sleep. I have no problem stating this honestly because i don’t belong to a religious group that restricts drinking or swearing.

  • Drek

    I’ve been an atheist since I was about 12. I didn’t drink at all until grad school (roughly 24). Now I have a taste for scotch and bourbon, which I indulge (responsibly) once or twice a week. I don’t think I swear that much, unless you count blasphemy. As for sex… well, I’ve got a happy marriage is all I’ll say.

  • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

    I don’t drink at all (except for a glass of wine at Christmas) because alcoholism runs in my family. It’s not a moral choice, but a practical one. I swear a lot privately, but restrain myself in swearing around the kiddies because I still have young children (also not a moral choice, but a practical one– I don’t want the kids getting in trouble at school for echoing my language). Sex– well, alas, I’m celibate now due to my physical issues. But I WRITE about sex all the time. And again, no moral issue there, in my opinion (though I admit it worried me quite a bit when I was a Lutheran!). Sex is fun both to have, and to write about. And as Compuholic says, this is the only life we get– we might as well make it an enjoyable one:-).

  • APJH

    I’m a non-believer (not sure I’d call myself an Atheist but I certainly believe religion is harmful and unnecessary). I don’t drink at all, though I do love sex. And I’ll never shy away from curse words (usually f**k, in some form). They’re just words, for f**k’s sake.

    • C Peterson

      I’m glad you wouldn’t call yourself an “Atheist”, because there is no such thing. But as a nonbeliever, you are most certainly an atheist, whatever you actually want to label yourself.

      And for fuck’s sake, you’re shying away from the word right here!

    • baal

      As feminerd commented recently, it’s ok to type out ‘fuck’. ‘Just’ on the other hand, is a 4letter-word for me.

  • Amanda Barker

    I’m not going to lie, I didn’t watch the video. I abhor watching videos and personally wish every person that posts a video would include a transcript so I can read it instead. Then again, I read faster than most people speak and having to slow down information assimilation for the nuisance of the spoken word irritates me. That said…

    A better question would be, “Do atheists have more reason to drink than religious people?” That said, I drink far less and less often than my religious friends therefore, in my personal experience, no. Of course, I don’t believe that prayer can clean my liver keep my neurons active so I have more reasons not to drink than they do.

    • lovesalot

      I also prefer transcripts and did not watch the video.

    • Miss_Beara

      Transcripts yay! Videos boo!

      I don’t mind some videos but I like the option of transcripts.

    • Kodie

      Some videos are short and I still don’t bother to watch them. What compels me to watch this? I watched a couple of Hemant’s videos, just like I watch some of… Ed? the former priest. It’s like, hey we’re going to hide this post behind a jump and then you have to watch the thing. Sometimes what I want to do is skim an article. I am not going to say I would have read it word for word if it was transcribed or just written in the first place, but I like that there are videos too. Some people prefer to watch a video and listen instead of read. Some people are finding these on youtube as a first exposure and not here on FA. But I’m not going to lie and say I would rather read it, but the written word is easier to skim and decide if I want to pay attention. There are just too many things on the internet competing for my time and attention. You can’t get the gist of a video.

      Anyway, I think it depends which sect you are if you have no moral aversion to drinking – pretty much everyone I know drinks, my parents don’t drink (my dad tries things now and again, but I wouldn’t say he has even a sporadic habit), alcoholism runs on both sides of the family, though, my father does believe, and I am not sure if my mother does, but we were raised in a secular home, and all us their kids do drink. I also learned a lot of cursing at home, but now my mom doesn’t like it. I think religious people drink, like I said, if there’s no moralizing on it particularly. Either they are normal drinkers or even habitual or even alcoholic as per personal preference, OR they are complete teetotalers, which can say something about personal preference also, or it may have to do with the convictions of your sect, like Mormons don’t drink. I also think religious people swear as much as the next guy, they just think they don’t. They’re just words, and we all know what you mean by “bless your heart.”

      I formulated my response by reading comments up to this point. .

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Hm, transcripts. I’ve been transcribing these for Hemant as I get time, so when viewing closed captions on youtube, they’re correct, rather than an a speech-to-text algorithm which is more comedy than anything.

      But that’s still not a format people can just read- they still have to view the video and read at speaking pace.

      Perhaps we can put the actual transcripts up somewhere Hemant?

      And if anyone else wants to transcribe any of these, you can send them to Hemant and he’ll get them to the right place.

    • C Peterson

      Another vote for transcripts. While I generally don’t care for videos as a mechanism for conveying material that doesn’t depend on its unique features (transcribed animation sucks!), for me it’s a practical matter, too. I simply don’t have access to a good enough Internet connection to make video very practical. It comes in bursts and pauses. If I want to watch anything more than a few seconds long, I usually have to pause it at the beginning and hope it keeps buffering, since my Internet bandwidth is about half the streaming rate of YouTube.

      You people living in cities with a wealth of high speed data options forget that ISPs have very little interest in rural communities. Even our school here can’t get fast enough Internet to make video practical.

  • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

    The GSS doesn’t about to have any intersection in the questions on drinking and directly on belief in God, but the religiously unaffiliated “Nones” seem to tend to drink in (admitted) amounts about as much as Catholics.

    As for how often people have sex, women who believe in God are much more likely to have been completely abstinent — which (adding a variable) looks like it’s in part a function of married versus not for them, though not among the men. However, overall there’s not so much a pattern on belief in God as on religious affiliation (which are two different questions); those without or with weaker religious affiliation tend to have more sex than those with strong religious affiliation.

  • Lurker111

    Do atheists drink more?

    Yes. And if we fewer religious spouses, we’d drink less.

    Less snarky and a more general comment: Alcohol has its hazards, but the one thing it affords a thinking individual is the ability to withstand the presence of ignorance.

  • MD

    This anecdotal, but in college I drank a hell of a lot less than my Baptist and Mormon friends. “I’ll be a good Mormon/Baptist/x when I finish school,” was their logic.

  • mikespeir

    Well, I don’t drink at all. However, I think the more relevant question would be, Even if atheists do drink more, is that causing more actual harm?

  • Brian Westley

    I always find it incredibly stupid to ask people’s opinions of what they think is true, of something that can be measured. Just measure it.

  • McAtheist

    Do atheists drink and cuss more than religious people? I dunno, but if it’s a competition I can step up and do my part.

  • Miss_Beara

    Not in my experience.

  • Steve UK

    Teetotal atheist virgin who swears when necessary, there, I’ve said it! Think that answers the question?

  • Ida Know

    I’m a teetotaler (for no reason other than taste) who only has sex with my husband, and swears moderately though I am circumspect with it around kids, not because I think they haven’t heard the words or can’t handle them but because it might upset their parents.

    I think that possibly the “atheists drink more/cuss more/are more promiscuous” thing is not just related to the “atheists have bad/no morals” thing but also to the “atheists have no hope, love, or joy” thing. As in, we supposedly drink/cuss/have sex indiscriminately in order to supposedly escape our supposedly wretched, miserable lives.

    • TCC

      This. It’s that pernicious idea that atheists (well, everyone, I guess) has a “God-shaped hole” and are incomplete without accepting Jesus Christ into their heart, blah blah blah. I think it’s also related to the notion that atheists worship themselves or science or reason because, you know, everyone has to worship something, right? It’s rationalization of prejudices, not an actual attempt at legitimate understanding.

  • Bruce Martin

    Let’s not forget the mathematical principle that valid comparisons must be with an appropriate control group, and that measurement techniques should be validated. The average age of non-theists is younger than that of theists, so age disparity must be normalized out, for this to be meaningful. Also, many religious people feel pressured to lie about their drinking, etc., so self-reporting on this is no more likely to be valid than is self-reporting on church attendance (which is shown to be significantly distorted).

    Of course, the question of who drinks more is one that inherently presumes that drinking less is a virtue. Medical data suggests that an occasional glass of red wine might be healthier than abstaining, and as a society where emergency room costs are shared, it could be argued that it is irresponsible NOT to drink a little. Besides, having wine for a party was Jesus’s top priority (OK, first) miracle, as related in the gospel according to Rowan Atkinson. (citation: youtube).

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Transcript (formatting’s a bit rough because youtube doesn’t care about that when turning it into closed captions. Anyone who wants to clean it up is welcome to :-)

    Do atheists drink more or curse more or do more bad things.

    So this all depends on what your definition of what “bad” means.

    Ya, some atheists are going to drink. I know some atheists who don’t drink at all. But some atheists drink. In moderation. I hope that’s what every one does.

    Do atheists swear? Uh ya, I’ve hear atheists swear, and I probably wouldn’t hear that at church. But in the atheists’ world anyway, and not everyone agrees with this, but in the atheist world I mean for the most part it’s more of a free speech thing you know.

    Say how you feel. It’s not like any word is good or bad, it’s all about the intention of the word.

    Don’t call someone a bad name. Because that doesn’t add to your argument.

    But if you say a swear, hopefully you mean it, you know.

    And this is something stand-up comedians like George Carlin have been saying for a long time. The words are not bad, don’t censor the words.

    It’s about how you use them and what the intentions are.

    And the same thing applies when we talk about sex.

    Ya, atheists are probably more likely to talk about sex. To talk about what safe sex is, and what their own interests are.

    Those are not conversations you ever see in a lot of church environments because they just think the whole topic is taboo and they don’t talk about it at all.

    So I think that I appreciate that atheists have this open mind and open spirit as when it comes to these sorts of topics because we can debate whether something is good or bad or right or wrong and there’s not one clear-cut answer to this.

    But I promise you for every single thing that we get stereotyped as doing, drinking cursing, sleeping around, whatever, there are plenty of atheists who don’t do any of those things. And the people who do it probably have very good reasons for why they do it. It’s not because they’re sinners, it’s not because they’re immoral. They could justify to you why they’re doing the things that they do.

    I think what it tells me is if you think someone is being bad because they’re doing those things, why don’t you have a conversation with them and talk to them about it.

    And what I hear from Christians a lot is that, not that they want to do any of those things necessarily, but that they don’t even have a safe space to talk about those sorts of things.

    So I definitely appreciate that about the ‘atheist culture’ which is that these things are not taboo topics. We can discuss them, we can debate them, and it’s not a problem.

    My name is Hemant Mehta.

    I write at friendlyatheist.com

    And if you have any questions you’d like me to answer or any comments about what you just heard, leave them in the comments below and we’ll take care of that.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      I know qualifying everything gets tiresome, but some atheists certainly drink beyond moderation. It’s not like atheism makes you immune from abusing drugs or abusing people or doing pretty much any other unhealthy thing.

  • Artor

    I don’t drink a drop; alcohol is revolting. But my Catholic relatives drink beer and spirits by the metric assload. At my grandmother’s 80th b-day, I was astounded by the trash cans overflowing with empties. 30 adults, maybe 400 cans of beer.

  • onamission5

    Sample size: 1

    I am no teetotaler, but I hardly drink at all these days, more because I feel the need to be clearheaded for the kids than out of anything else. A beer or a glass of wine once in a while (like maybe two beers in the same week then nothing for months), maybe a mixed drink on the incredibly rare occasion that Spouse and I get a date or hang with friends. Both of us can hold our liquor quite well it’s just neither of us really feels the need to at this juncture. Spouse even less so than I do.

    Swearing, though? That I can do like a fucking champion.

  • Mark W.

    I drink more, swear more and have better sex than all but the most lecherous of Catholic or Protestant priests. Although I do confine my drinking/swearing and sexing to adults, so the priests have me there.

  • Sam B

    6,395 days without a(n alcoholic) drink. Or 17y 7m 4d

    I am not an alcoholic, though I will tell people who try and push drinks on me that I am. I have no problem with others enjoying a drink or two (in moderation), we have booze in the house – it probably helps my partner put up with my idiosyncrasies. All of my closest friends are atheists, none of them drink to excess (any more – university days are long gone).

  • CanadianNihilist

    I don’t drink at all. I haven’t had a drop of alcohol since I was a teenager. I don’t even eat food that’s prepared with cooking wine.

    So as always the questions of do atheist/Christians do X more than the other is an invalid question since we’re all different people with varying traits and habits.

  • Kodie

    http://acton.patch.com/groups/politics-and-elections/p/whats-open-closed-on-independence-day

    Details included in article; nutshell version below the headline reads:

    Liquor stores open – Libraries closed.

    Fuck yeah!

  • Crazy Russian

    I don’t know about general trends, but I hanged around quite a few Episcopalians, and they drink just fine, thank you. You won’t generally see them too ashamed of that, either.

  • Trickster Goddess

    I don’t usually drink because I don’t like how it makes my brain feel. It is the worst kind of buzz of any intoxicants I’ve ever tried. Sometimes I wonder if this is genetic since everyone in my family seems to be the same way. Whenever anyone of us does have a drink, it is rarely more than just one. A nice side effect of this is that our family reunions are usually rather pleasant.

    As for swearing, yeah I swear but I don’t use swear words. I prefer pouring my frustration and invective into completely made up words. Sort of like swearing in tongues.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    I don’t drink that much. I can’t drink the day before I have to sing (I envy those who can, but I really can’t unless I want to sound like crap.)

    I do curse a lot. I like to do it creatively and I try to limit it to appropriate situations (not in front of children, not in front of people who seem uptight and likely easily offended, not in professional situations) but I do enjoy using the f word.

    Sex? Not as much as I used to. I’m not 23 any more and have other priorities besides getting laid. This week at least. ;-)

  • Anonymous Anonymous

    I don’t feel that there is a correlation. I’m an atheist, but I don’t use alcohol. I do, however, use cannabis on a regular basis (1-2 times a week on average). I also use a host of other drugs in a responsible manner.

    Drug use isn’t related to religiosity (just think of all the Christians who drink!), but there surely must be a relationship between certain substances, especially the psychedelics, and religion. I would wager that most people who use psychedelics are not very religious.

  • Njen

    I was raised a Mormon for the first 20 years of my life, and was and strictly adhered to the Word of Wisdom (no alcohol, smoking, drugs, tea, coffee, etc.).

    So when I drifted away to a point where I knew I was a confirmed atheist, I realised that I still didn’t want to drink (or smoke, etc.). I still don’t even swear or blasphemy, which all just goes to show that even now where I consider myself free from religion and the stranglehold of an imaginary god, the religious imprint that was drilled into me as a child still has lasting effects. Not that this is a bad thin in this case, but it is one aspect of my life that causes me a lot of internal reflection.

    TL;DR: I have never drink any alcohol in my life.

    • Njen

      Gah, so many bad grammatical errors:
      and was and = and
      blasphemy = blaspheme
      bad thin = bad thing

      • baal

        It’s the internets, I read past the errors and just assumed you’d been drinking recently.

  • Robster

    Yeh, but the christians offer a (albeit) small serve of red wine with a small bikkie in church, Sundays. So alcohol is a part of xian ritual, which amongst the deluded would give liquor a sanctioned approval. Non believers tend to drink by choice without the imperative of tradition so I recon the god botherers beverage themselves more than regular people.

    • MD

      There are some Christian denominations that frown upon even this much alcohol. They serve grape juice in a tiny paper cup.

  • Randy Burbach

    I drink very little. Far less than most of the religious people I know (except a few Muslims and Buddhists). I have an occasional beer, an occasional Bloody Mary, an occasional glass of really expensive 20 year old tawny port. By “occasional,” I mean maybe one or two a month. Of course, I know a bunch of atheists who drink more than I do as well. Oddly enough, most of the “mean drunks” I know are regular church attendees.

  • Free

    Not sure why the posts here about swearing and drinking etc… Who does more? Not sure of the motivation to know these things. Do Atheists feel morally superior or is it the other way around? Do Christians “outperform” atheists? For a Christian who rightly understands their faith, they are not in a performance based relationship to compare. They are taken up with their relationship with God and their relationship that it motivates the behavior.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Because sometimes Christians a) claim atheists do those things more and b) that they’re bad. It doesn’t happen a lot, and I wouldn’t consider it a burning question. Most often I notice it when someone on here points to atheists using words like ‘fuck’ and snarks “And you say you’re good without God, LOL”

      (at least that’s my take- Maybe Hemant has some insight as to why he decided to tackle that question)

  • Mairianna

    Uhm…I’d seriously throw the curve on this study….except for the swearing. I do that a lot!

  • Anna

    I can’t imagine one’s position on deities influences alcohol consumption very much. If it does at all, the only people who would be affected would be members of sects that demand that their adherents eschew alcohol. Those are typically conservative evangelical Protestants, Mormons, and Muslims. Are there others? Catholics are allowed to drink, Jews are allowed to drink, and the vast majority of mainstream Protestants are allowed to drink.

    In any case, I’m an atheist, and I don’t drink alcohol. Not because I think it’s immoral, but because a) I hate the way it tastes and b) I don’t care for its mind-altering properties. I like my mind the way it is, and I don’t have any desire to feel or act the way people do when they’re under the influence.


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