“No Mr. Bond—I expect you to die … slowly, of cirrhosis or other alcohol-related complications.”
“James Bond’s weekly alcohol intake is over four times the advisable maximum alcohol consumption for an adult male,” concludes a real paper in a real medical journal—a good one! the British Medical Journal!—by real researchers regarding a fake character. “He is at considerable risk of developing alcoholic liver disease, cirrhosis, impotence,” they add, as if this were not 007 they were talking about, “and other alcohol-related health problems, together with being at serious risk of injury or death because of his drinking.”
The paper, by three U.K. physicians, is ostensibly trying to call attention to the problems associated with heavy drinking—and take some of the shine off of the super spy’s more deleterious habits. After all, they note, 2.5 million deaths around the world every year are attributable to alcohol consumption.
Still, if the researchers want to be accused of hating fun, this was probably a solid move.
To determine whether the character really is an alcoholic, they conducted a semi-scientific survey of all 14 of Ian Fleming’s Bond books (not the movies). They determined that he averaged 92 alcoholic units per week, which amounts to four times the recommended limits for an adult male. Many studies have indicated people tend to underestimate their own drinking substantially, implying that his self-reported numbers may not even reflect the real seriousness of the problem. On days on which Bond was “able” to drink—when he wasn’t, say, imprisoned by a dastardly, booze-hating supervillain—he consumed some alcoholic beverage on 75 out of 87.5 days. These numbers, they say, are conservative estimates.
If Bond were to be evaluated using the CAGE questionnaire for alcoholism, he would score 3 out of 4—enough to merit an intervention, certainly. There are times when Bond admits to feeling better when he drinks less, other fictional characters have noted or criticized his drinking, and he feels the need for a morning “eye opener” every now and then. As for feeling “bad or guilty about your drinking,” as the CAGE questionnaire also asks? Well, the doctors conclude: “It is likely that an international spy and assassin cannot spend too much time worrying about remorse, so we are not surprised that there are no documented instances of alcohol-associated guilt.”
If you’re curious, the thrilling adventure during which Bond drank the least is Man With the Golden Gun (41.5 alcoholic units), though his weekly consumption is lowest in Goldfinger (52.4 units per week). The highest total and weekly average come in You Only Live Twice (225.8 units, 132 units per week).
What about Bond’s drink of choice? Our very concerned medical investigators say that the most iconic aspect of James Bond’s drinking habits is also related to severe alcohol problems. His preference for a “shaken” martini may be related, they believe, to an alcohol-induced tremor that affects 007’s ability to actually stir a drink.
Before you complain about wasting researchers’ time and money on something this useless, note that the authors sought no funding for the study, and one of them already owned the books. They even saved themselves some time by employing a shortcut, wherein one person read half the books and another read the other half. Ideally, from a scientific point of view, both would read all the books and average out their calculations of beverages consumed. “Unfortunately, limited resources and other clinical, social, intellectual, and cultural commitments meant a more pragmatic approach had to be taken.” In other words, literally everything took precedence over this colossal waste of our time.
So, is Bond useful as a parable against alcoholism? Sure, he has 39 units of alcohol in Casino Royale before getting in a car and engaging in a high speed chase that leaves him in a hospital, which the researchers hope “was a salutatory lesson.” But, well, the man has not lost yet, and somehow remains the “best shot in the Secret Service,” so … shaken martinis all around, I guess, tremor be damned.