A new study from Penn State University shows ties between the words used to describe alcohol intoxication and the drinking habits of those who use them. The results, recently published in the journal Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology lends insight to the drinking habits of young adults but could also help researchers and clinicians fine-tune their language used during substance abuse interventions and research studies.
Inebriation Habits and The Vocabulary Used to Describe Intoxication
A team of researchers led by Ashley Linden-Carmichael, assistant research professor in the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, examined the language young adults use to describe different levels of inebriation.
"We're finding that young adults have a wide range of vocabulary they use around drinking, and we should make sure we're using words that they are using instead of more clinical terms like 'intoxicated,'" Linden-Carmichael said. "Even the word 'drunk' may not be seen as the highest level of drinking. As researchers or clinicians, we need to incorporate contemporary language into our work."
According to the researchers, the young adult age range of 18 to 25 is a high-risk period for dangerous alcohol use, with about 37% of young adults reporting binge drinking—typically defined as five or more drinks in two hours for men or four or more for women—at least once in the past month and 10% reporting binge drinking on five or more days in the past month.
According to Linden-Carmichael, understanding the drinking habits of young adults is critical to intervention efforts, and some recent research suggests that how drunk someone feels may be a better predictor of risky behavior than an objective measure of how drunk they actually are, like blood alcohol content (BAC).
"If a young adult is particularly risk-prone and is considering driving home after a night of drinking, are they going to do the math of how many drinks they've had over a certain number of hours or are they going to ask themselves how they feel." Linden-Carmichael said. "How drunk someone feels is subjective, but understanding how to measure that could be helpful in preventing risky behavior."
For the study, the researchers found 323 young adults who had reported having at least two heavy episodes of drinking in the previous month and recruited them. They filled out a ten minute survey where they provided words they would use to describe how they feel while drinking. Additionally, they also answered questions about their typical drinking habits.
"We wanted to get a good representation of language used across the whole United States," Linden-Carmichael said. "We used Amazon's Mechanical Turk as a crowd-sourcing platform to reach young adults from across the country and to have them generate words to describe light, moderate and heavy drinking episodes."
From Amazon: "Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) is a crowdsourcing marketplace that makes it easier for individuals and businesses to outsource their processes and jobs to a distributed workforce who can perform these tasks virtually."
The Four Categories of Alcohol Intoxication
Researchers found that most of the participants could be sorted into four categories, each with their own vocabulary and habits. They are:
Happy Drinkers - 31% - mostly reported feeling happy when drinking.
Multi-Experience Drinkers - 27% - reported feeling buzzed, tipsy, drunk, and were also the only group to report 'wasted' as a common word to describe how they feel while drinking.
Relaxed Drinkers - 24% - reported feeling happy, relaxed, and buzzed.
Buzzed Drinkers - 18% - reported feeling buzzed and dizzy.
Linden-Carmichael said of the multi-experience drinkers. "...this group might be the one most likely to drink for the purpose of getting drunk."
Studying these language differences may help give insight into people's motivations for drinking, and those motivations may give further clues about how much someone is drinking and how often.
"When interventionists are working with young adults who are struggling to reduce their drinking, they might benefit from using the same language that their participants are using," Linden-Carmichael said. "For example, the word 'intoxicated' isn't commonly used and may be associated with winding up in the hospital because of alcohol poisoning. So they could benefit from being sensitive to differences in the way people use different words."
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