Young Adults’ Drinking Language Suggests 4 Types of Drinkers

A new study suggests that the language young people use to describe the effects they feel from drinking may give clues into their drinking habits.

A team of researchers at Penn State analyzed the language young adults use to describe different levels of inebriation. The team was able to not only discover the language young people are using, but also discovered four distinct “classes” of drinkers: happy drinkers, relaxed drinkers, buzzed drinkers and multi-experience drinkers.

The findings are published in the journal Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology.

“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,’” said Dr. Ashley Linden-Carmichael, assistant research professor in the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center.

“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 from 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.

Linden-Carmichael said that understanding the drinking habits of young adults is vital to intervention efforts, and that 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.”

The study involved 323 young adults who reported having at least two heavy episodes of drinking in the previous month. The participants completed a 10-minute survey during which they provided words they typically used to describe how they feel while drinking. 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.”

After analyzing the data, the team found that most of the participants could be sorted into four categories, each with their own vocabulary and habits.

The largest group was “happy drinkers,” who made up 31% of participants and who mostly reported feeling happy when drinking. Another group, at 24%, were “relaxed drinkers,” who reported feeling happy, relaxed, and buzzed. Next, 18% of the participants were “buzzed drinkers” who reported feeling buzzed and dizzy. Relaxed drinkers tended to report heavier alcohol use and buzzed drinkers tended to report drinking less often.

“Finally we had the group that we called the ‘multi-experience drinker class,’ which made up 27% of our participants,” Linden-Carmichael said. “They 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. So this group might be the one most likely to drink for the purpose of getting drunk.”

Linden-Carmichael added that studying these language differences may help give insight into people’s motivations for drinking, and that 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.”

Source: Penn State


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