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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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The Language of Intoxication, Straight Up

To Describe Their Degree of Intoxication, Men Might Use Words Like ‘Hammered’ or ‘Wasted’, While Women Opt for ‘Tipsy’


When males in the study used words like "trashed" or "wasted," it reflected about eight drinks over two hours, Levitt tells WebMD.

"Therefore, women could be binge drinking while psychologically perceiving their level of intoxication as being 'tipsy' or relatively benign, as opposed to heavier levels of intoxication that would be described with less euphemistic terms." he says.

That could spell trouble, misleading women into feeling they are capable of driving after drinking because they think of themselves as merely "tipsy," he adds.

Such findings can help researchers and clinicians assess tolerance and sensitivity, Levitt says, and also aid in the "development of gender-sensitive interventions."

Heavy drinking interventions work best, researchers have found, when individual feedback is personalized and gender specific, he says.

"Our findings can help clinicians improve these interventions by helping them understand which terms men and women use differently," he says.

"We're not saying objective measures aren't important," Levitt tells WebMD. "We're saying the terms can be used as a supplement to objective measures."

Women might describe themselves as "tipsy" or "loopy" when they're really at least as "hammered" as men, Levitt says. And if they think of themselves as merely tipsy, he adds, they might be more likely to get in a car and drive.

Words to describe states of inebriation have been evolving for centuries, Levitt notes in the study, The Language of Intoxication: Preliminary Investigations, to be published soon in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

He cites one 1981 analysis that corroborated the notion that there are more synonyms for "drunk" than for any other word in the English language. Many terms go out of fashion, such as "bagged," which 25 years ago meant the same as today's "hammered."

Among the conclusions: "There is a distinct need for supplementary measures of the subjective effects of alcohol, regardless of why the individual differences exist. Additionally supplemental measures could have important implications for future research, particularly in examining problematic drinking outcomes."

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