Scientists Say James Bond is a Drunk… They’re Wrong.
By Thaddeus Camlin, Psy.D.
By now most are accustomed to so-called addiction experts purporting hair-brained ideas about substance use. Examples of hair-brained ideas from addiction experts include but most certainly are not limited to: don’t give an alcoholic drugs, once an addict always an addict, addicts are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves, there’s only one way to recover… and the list goes on ad nauseam. This week addiction experts from down under pushed a click-bait claim, based on “scientific analysis” of all James Bond films, that the man with a golden gun’s alcohol intake is so severe that he might not die another day. In the spirit of challenging the litany of misinformation about addiction, let us look closely at the claim from Aussie experts that 007 meets criteria for severe alcohol use disorder.
To analyze whether the drinking habits of the British Moonraker warrant clinical diagnosis, let us look at each diagnostic criteria scientists claim Bond meets, and whether or not the claims are justified.
Claim 1: James Bond drinks more alcohol over a longer period of time than intended.
- Purported Evidence: Researchers cite several examples of Bond drinking heavily (e.g. Goldfinger, Felix Leiter implying that Bond drinks enough liquor for three people, Skyfall, Bond drinking six vesper martinis, Spectre, Bond stating that he drinks “too much”)
- Strength of Evidence: Weak
- Analysis: Researchers cite numerous examples of heavy drinking episodes, but the only hint of an indication that Bond ever drinks more than intended is in his remark from Spectre that he believes he drinks “too much.” Even believing that he drinks too much, however, is not clear evidence that he is drinking more than he intended.
- Conclusion: James Bond does not meet this criteria because there is no evidence that he drinks more alcohol than he intends or that he drinks for longer than he intends.
Claim 2: James Bond spends a great deal of time drinking alcohol, obtaining alcohol, or recovering from its effects.
- Purported Evidence: Researchers cite the frequency of Bond’s drinking (a staple in Bond films), noted liver problems (e.g. Die Another Day, Bond’s body is scanned after being released from a North Korean prison and a medical assessor says, “Liver not too good”), and long drinking events (e.g. Tomorrow Never Dies, Bond drinks vodka throughout the day while waiting for ex-girlfriend Paris Carver).
- Strength of Evidence: Weak
- Analysis of Evidence: Drinking heavily and frequently are not diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder. Most of Bond’s alcohol consumption is an accent to more important endeavors – work, romance, etc. Bond may drink regularly, but rarely is drinking the sole focus of Bond’s actions. A business man who regularly hosts and entertains while having a few drinks cannot be said to spend a great deal of time drinking, he spends a great deal of time doing business. Although Bond drinks heavily at times, he does not spend a great deal of time drinking or recovering from alcohol’s effects.
- Conclusion: James Bond does not meet criteria for spending a great deal of time drinking or recovering from alcohol’s effects because there is no evidence that he spends a great deal of time drinking and there is no evidence that he spends any significant time recovering from the effects of drinking.
Claim 3: James Bond repeatedly fails to fulfill major role obligations at work, home, or school because of his drinking.
- Purported Evidence: Skyfall, Bond is considered unfit to be an agent for a period of time due to an M16 report that states, “alcohol and substance addiction indicated.” Also in Skyfall, M expresses awareness of Bond’s drinking. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service Bond drinks from a hip flask and apologizes to Queen Elizabeth II.
- Strength of Evidence: Moderate
- Analysis of Evidence: The evidence is clear that Bond’s drinking resulted in failure to fulfill major role obligations at work… once. However, the criteria here says repeated failure to fulfill major role obligations. Sipping a flask at work while apologizing to a painting is in no way evidence that he is failing to fulfill any obligations. Deeming Bond unfit to be an agent because of his drinking is compelling evidence that he failed to fulfill major role obligations at work. However, given his ongoing employment and his rather impressive job performance upon return to duty, Bond resumed fulfilling his role obligations at the highest level, suggesting that he effectively dealt with whatever alcohol problems he was facing.
- Conclusion: James Bond does not meet criteria for repeatedly failing to fulfill major role obligations at work because there is only evidence of one incident of failing to fulfill major role obligations at work.
Claim 4: James Bond repeatedly uses alcohol in hazardous situations.
- Purported Evidence: Researchers cite numerous examples of Bond drinking alcohol in or prior to risky situations (e.g. operating nuclear power plant machinery in Dr. No, chasing May Day up the Eiffel Tower in A View to A Kill, flying a helicopter in Spectre, and more).
- Strength of Evidence: Strong
- Analysis of Evidence: Bond is frequently drinking while on the job, and his job puts him in many risky situations. The evidence is clear that Bond repeatedly uses alcohol in situations in which it is physically hazardous and/or risky.
- Conclusion: James Bond meets criteria of repeated use in hazardous situations based on numerous examples of drinking before operating machinery and engaging in risky behaviors.
Claim 5: James Bond continues to drink despite knowledge that alcohol causes or worsens physical and/or psychological problems.
- Purported Evidence: Researchers state that Bond has established liver problems and note that he continues to drink. Researchers also cite as evidence the scene from Tomorrow Never Dies, in which Bond drinks throughout the day because he is hurting over his break up with Paris Carver. Researcher’s claim Bond is drinking despite knowing that he is depressed, and that alcohol is worsening his depression.
- Strength of Evidence: Moderate
- Analysis of Evidence: The only clear indication that Bond has liver problems comes from the scene in Die Another Day, in which his body is scanned leaving a North Korean prison and a medical assessor comments, “Liver not too good.” A body scan leaving a prison hardly constitutes a comprehensive medical exam. However, there is some evidence that Bond has liver problems and continues to drink. The second piece of evidence, from Tomorrow Never Dies, suggests that Bond is depressed and that he continues to drink knowing that alcohol worsens his depression. The claim that Bond is depressed and that alcohol is worsening his depression is fatally flawed. Bond is hurt over a break-up with someone he cared for, a natural response to that life event. In no way does feeling hurt over the end of a relationship constitute clinical depression, and in no way does drinking – even heavily for an entire day after a break-up – indicate a problem. Bond gets right back to business after patching things up with Paris, suggesting that his sadness was nothing close to clinical depression and that his drinking very well may have helped to soothe the sadness he was experiencing.
- Conclusion: James Bond meets the criteria of continued use despite awareness that alcohol worsens physical and/or psychological problems based on evidence of continuing to drink despite liver problems.
Claim 6: James Bond needs to consume much more alcohol than he used to in order to achieve his desired effects, and/or, when James Bond drinks the same amount of alcohol that he used to it has a lot less effect than it used to.
- Purported Evidence: Researchers cite numerous examples of Bond drinking heavily and not appearing to be heavily intoxicated. The most extreme example researchers cite comes from Quantum of Solace, where Bond drinks six vesper martinis. Researchers suggest, based on the bartender in the scene’s detailed description of what constitutes a vesper martini, that six vespers equates to 24 standard drinks. Given the amount of time that elapses while Bond consumed 24 standard drinks researchers estimate his BAC to be 0.36. At a BAC of 0.36 Bond’s movements are slower than usual, but he does not slur his words, which suggests tolerance.
- Strength of Evidence: Strong
- Analysis of Evidence: In the vesper martini scene from Quantum of Solace, Bond looks a bit sedated, but he is speaking well, tracking the conversation, and shows no signs of acute intoxication. Assuming researchers are anywhere close to accurate in their estimation of Bond’s BAC, tolerance is well established. Nobody starts out able to function reasonably well at a 0.36 BAC.
- Conclusion: James Bond meets the criteria of tolerance for alcohol based on him consuming 24 standard drinks in a single drinking episode and not showing signs of acute intoxication.
It’s hard to tell if the authors of the article claiming that James Bond has a severe alcohol use disorder were entirely serious. However, in an era characterized by misinformation about substance use it is important to challenge misinformation, whether it be in jest or not. In this era of hyperbolic click-bate nonsense it is incumbent upon us to engage in the long lost art of critical thinking. Just because James Bond drinks often, and at times in large amounts, does not mean he meets criteria for severe alcohol use disorder.
At worst, Bond meets three criteria for alcohol use disorder, putting his “problem” in the range of a mild alcohol use disorder (2-3 criteria). However, what diagnosticians often neglect is the critical caveat to making any diagnosis, the issue must be causing clinically significant impairment or distress. Bond seems to be doing pretty well for himself. He encountered a problem at work related to his drinking and corrected it. Otherwise, alcohol does not seem to be causing any clinically significant impairment or distress. Thus, a strong case can be made that our favorite British Spy does not meet criteria for a diagnosis of any alcohol use disorder, and that his drinking rises only to the level of risky use.