We all know Ian Fleming's enduring character James Bond is a fast-living, ready-for-action, hard-drinking guy. But just how hard-drinking is he? A group of Australian public health researchers (who apparently are also film buffs) decided to find out. The result is License to Swill, a review of Bond's observed drinking over 60-years of films--the longest running film franchise in history, created for the Medical Journal of Australia's annual Christmas competition.

Why focus on Bond's alcohol consumption in the movies? It was a glaring gap in the research, the study's authors explain. "The peer-reviewed literature on James Bond has delved into his smoking, violent behaviour, and psychopathology," they write. There has been at least one study of sex role stereotyping in Bond movies, and Dr. No was even studied as part of larger research on dermatology issues among movie villains. And, there has been a study of Bond's alcohol consumption in the Fleming novels.

But the movies are very different from the books and have a much larger audience, the authors write. And so, it was time to take a closer look at Bond's drinking habits in them. The authors' methodology was simple. Two researchers, presumably armed with popcorn, watched all 24 Bond films, recording information about every instance of alcohol consumption they observed. When there was uncertainty about how to count a particular instance of drinking (or what Bond was drinking), a third researcher was called in to watch segments of movies and help decide what was seen. A psychiatrist on the research team used this data to make a diagnosis of Bond.

Their unsurprising conclusion is that Bond is classified as having severe alcohol use disorder, as he displays six of the eleven criteria defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), a widely used diagnostic tool. "He should consider seeking professional help and find other strategies for managing on-the-job stress," the authors write.

That is, if he's still alive. Given the amount he's drunk, he might not be. The researchers estimate that his peak blood alcohol level was 0.36 grams per deciliter (g/dl), which is high enough to be fatal for some people. If he's the same Bond as in the Ian Fleming novels, then he's really in trouble, the researchers note. A study of the books by a different research team discovered that Bond consumed 50 units of alcohol in a single day. "Consumed over 12 hours, this would achieve a blood alcohol level of about 0.61 g/dL, a level that would be fatal for most people," the authors note.

Should his friends take away the keys to his Aston Martin?

What's particularly disturbing, they add, is that Bond so often liquors up before operating heavy machinery or engaging in otherwise dangerous activity which includes fights, driving vehicles in chases, flying a helicopter, operating badly damaged nuclear power plant machinery, climbing the Eiffel Tower, escaping a komodo dragon, and playing a drinking game with a scorpion on his hand. He also frequently engages in sex with a high blood alcohol level, which does not seem to impede his performance but does threaten his safety since his sexual partners are often enemy combatants and there are sometimes guns or knives in the bed.

Clearly, the researchers write, Bond must make some lifestyle changes ASAP. "Ideally, Bond should urgently seek professional help for his drinking." He should also be evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) "after killing so many people and having been tortured so often," they note.

In the meantime, he should avoid drinking on the job, "in particular when anticipating a gunfight or if he is likely to be drugged (as these are problems he frequently encounters)." Such tasks as helicopter combat and deactivating nuclear weapons are best done while completely sober, they add. And, they note, "He should avoid drinking with sexual partners who may want to disable, capture or kill him." 

But it's not all Bond's fault--MI6 is a severely dysfunctional workplace. Not only is there no employee assistance program in evidence--when the type of work they do suggests one would be needed--Bond's employers actually encourage him to drink while at work! M should immediately stop offering him drinks in the workplace, and MI6 should redefine his job toward more of a team culture so that Bond no longer feels solely responsible for the success of every mission, the authors advise.

And they have one more suggestion: "More training in how to negotiate with enemies may also reduce the need for killing them." That might be good for Bond's stress levels and probable PTSD. But it would likely make for less exciting movies.

Published on: Dec 15, 2018
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