Women Describe Their Intoxication With Softer Language
July 11, 2013

When Describing Intoxication, Women Use Softer Terms Like ‘Tipsy’

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

When drinking, it can be difficult to accurately describe to anyone else precisely how you are feeling. This isn't because inebriation has left you without your faculties, however. According to a new study from the University at Buffalo, SUNY, people use different words like "hammered" or "tipsy" to describe their level of intoxication.

More specifically, however, men and women tend to use these words differently to describe how they feel. Not surprisingly, men are more likely to use harder-hitting words like "hammered" or "wasted" while women were found to more often use words like "buzzed" or "tipsy." Researchers say it's important to understand how people use these words to make people aware of problem drinking as well as to help them understand when they truly have had too many and shouldn't drive.

The results of this study will appear in the December 2013 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"Drinkers use a complex set of physical and cognitive indicators to estimate intoxication," explained Ash Levitt, a research scientists at the Research Institute on Addictions for the University at Buffalo, SUNY in a statement.

"In order to quickly and easily communicate various levels of intoxication, drinkers distill these indicators down into distinct sets of natural language terms for intoxication, such as 'tipsy' or 'wasted.' Understanding this language is important as these terms reflect levels of intoxication as well as whether individuals are accurately estimating intoxication levels when they use these terms."

Levitt has performed this kind of research before, finding that people use different words to describe their level of intoxication depending on how drunk they really were. Yet one observation has remained consistent throughout his studies: Women generally prefer to keep quiet about how intoxicated they are while men are more likely to broadcast their state of inebriation using heavy terms.

"This study's key findings that men's drinking, regardless of whether it is moderate or heavy, is described using terms indicative of excessive consumption such as 'wasted' or 'hammered,' while women tend to couch drinking in more moderate terms such as 'buzzed' or 'tipsy' corresponds with the way that 'drinking men' and 'drinking women' are differentially perceived," explained Mark Wood, a professor of psychology at the University of Rhode Island.

"As such, these findings have clear implications for prevention and intervention work with men and women."

Furthermore, Levitt's research found that men and women are more likely to use the same words when judging how drunk others appear to be. After gathering some 145 undergraduate students from an unnamed midwestern university, Levitt asked them to read short situational stories about people drinking. Men and women were equally represented in these stories. When they finished reading, Levitt and crew asked them to describe how drunk they felt the characters would be. Words like "buzzed" were more often used by both men and women when describing a female character. Alternatively, words like "wasted" were more often used by both genders to describe the male characters.

Levitt believes this research is important to help both genders understand when they are truly intoxicated.

"One potential real-world implication that this research suggests is that women may be at increased risk for alcohol-related consequences such as drunk driving if they or their friends underestimate how intoxicated they are by using moderate terms like 'tipsy' to describe them when, in fact, they are heavily intoxicated and heavy terms would be more accurate," said Levitt.

A 2012 study found that an increasing number of women were involved in drunk driving crashes, catching up to men in this regard. If men and women better understand one another and how to accurately describe their levels of intoxication, these drunk driving numbers could potentially come down.