Study: Drunk men described as "wasted" while women considered "tipsy"

At The Bar: Four Friends Having Drinks iStockphoto

Here's another difference between men and women: Intoxicated men seem more likely to be described by others in exaggerated drunk terms, while people tend to downplay how intoxicated females actually are.

A new study published online in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research on July 10 revealed that college students are more likely to describe clearly drunk guys as "hammered," while the the girls are described as "tipsy."

"Drinkers use a complex set of physical and cognitive indicators to estimate intoxication," Ash Levitt, a research scientist at the Research Institute on Addictions at the University at Buffalo, SUNY, said in a press release. "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 and his team asked 145 undergraduate students between ages 17 and 22 to take a survey, which contained one of eight different vignettes involving alcohol consumption. The stories revolved around a people celebrating a birthday party in a bar. The main character's behavior was described, and the readers learned how many drinks the person had consumed within three hours.

If the character was behaving moderately drunk, both men and women were described with terms indicative of moderate intoxication, such as "buzzed," "tipsy" or "lightheaded."

But, if the female character was heavily drunk, the students used moderate-level terms like tipsy to describe her. The male characters, who displayed the same behavior as the females, were however labeled by students as "hammered," "trashed," "plastered" or "wasted."

Levitt said that the results suggest that women and those around them often underestimate how drunk they are because it goes against stereotypes.

"The finding that women tend to avoid natural language labels that indicate excessive consumption indicates awareness of a gender-based double standard in which drinking women, and perhaps especially drunk women, are judged more harshly than men," he explained.

This could lead to harmful behaviors like drunk driving or a higher chance that women could become sexual victims, he added.

Mark Wood, a professor of psychology at the University of Rhode Island who was not involved with the study, said earlier research has shown that if a woman is drinking moderately during a date, subjects felt that the woman was more likely to have sex at the end of the night and that she was more promiscuous than if she had been drinking soda.

Wood said the new study's results may show that men may feel more pressure to drink more than they should because it is expected of them.

"These beliefs normalized heavy drinking as both what most men actually do and what they ought or should do," Wood said in a press release. "These beliefs...have been found to influence heavy drinking and alcohol problems, particularly among younger drinkers like college students. They also provide a potential excuse for typically unacceptable behaviors as something that is normative, acceptable, and even fun. Essentially, in an instance like this, intoxication provides a 'cultural timeout' from regulating one's behavior."

Wood added that the study may provide insight in how to treat harmful drinking behavior in men and women.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention links binge drinking to health problems including alcohol poisoning, sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy, heart diseases, liver disease, neurological damage, unintentional injuries like car crashes or falls, and intentional injuries like sexual assault or domestic violence.

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