Dec. 17, 2008 -- If you've been drinking and think of yourself as "tipsy,"
chances are you're drunk as a skunk -- and female. If you're a man and just as
inebriated, odds are you'll describe yourself as "hammered" or "wasted."
Researchers are finding that the language drinkers use to describe alcohol's
effects on them vary by gender. And the words that drinkers use to describe
themselves are quite different from the descriptive words used by experts who
study alcohol and drinking.
Such are among the conclusions of University of Missouri researchers, who
feel that words used by drinkers to describe themselves after quaffing may
impede the understanding of the experts who're trying to get a handle on
bingeing, and on the use of booze in general.
"There is tremendous variation in what effect a specific dose of alcohol
will have in different individuals and in the same person on different
occasions," says Ash Levitt, a University of Missouri graduate student in
psychological sciences. "As social and cultural animals, humans have developed
a rich and diverse vocabulary of intoxication-related slang to describe the
subjective states they are experiencing while drinking. However, alcohol
researchers have largely ignored the language of intoxication."
Alcohol researchers often rely on objective measures, which don't reflect
subjective feelings or experiences, Levitt tells WebMD.
One problem is that people perceive the word "drunk" in many ways.
He and his colleagues studied 290 college students, ranging in age from 17
to 24. They later questioned another sample of 145 undergraduates. In both
groups, most students described themselves as "moderate" drinkers.
"We found that intoxication-related terms reflected either moderate or heavy
levels of intoxication, and that 'drunk' reflected a level of intoxication
somewhere between moderate and heavy," Levitt says. "Men tended to use
heavy-intoxication words more than women, which were also relatively more
forceful in their tone, such as 'hammered'.
"Women tended to use moderate intoxication words more than men, which were
also relatively more euphemistic, such as 'tipsy.'"
But their use of the word "tipsy" reflected an average of four drinks over
two hours, which researchers say meets the definition of binge drinking for
women but not for men.
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
Such findings can help researchers and clinicians assess tolerance and
sensitivity, Levitt says, and also aid in the "development of gender-sensitive