What “Getting Totally Wasted” Means

Alcohol abuse is described by college students using a unique set of terms

(RxWiki News) College kids use terms like "hammered" and "buzzed" to talk about drinking. These labels may lead students to think binge drinking is normal and a buzz is harmless.

In a recent study, a group of college students were asked to describe how drunk a fictional character was using common drinking terms like "tipsy" or "wasted."

The results showed the students used distinct words to describe each level of intoxication.

The researchers suggested these terms could be used to help educate students about hazardous drinking habits.

"Limit the amount of alcohol you drink."

Ash Levitt, PhD, a social psychology research scientist at the Research Institute on Addictions at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York (SUNY), led this study into the way college students use certain language to talk about potentially hazardous drinking behaviors.

According to the study's authors, researchers need to understand the natural language college students use to talk about drinking in order to better assess drinking culture among college students and treat problem drinking behaviors.

Binge drinking among college students has become a growing public health concern. For a woman, binge drinking means having four or more drinks within two hours. For a man, it means having five or more drinks over the course of two hours.

Previous research has shown that the natural language college students use to describe drinking behavior, such as "getting wasted," may indicate that students think that intoxication is acceptable and lacks the potential for harm.

For this study, the researchers recruited 139 college students from a large Midwestern university during the Spring semester of 2007.

On average, the participants reported 10 drinks per week and 2 binge-drinking episodes per month throughout the previous year.

Roughly half of the participants said they considered themselves to be moderate drinkers.

The participants were split evenly into eight groups and asked to read one of eight different hypothetical drinking scenarios. The students were asked to describe, using their own terms, how drunk they thought the characters in the scenario were. 

The researchers discovered that the drinking culture among college students has generated its own language. Certain words indicate certain levels of intoxication.

Most of the students in the study used the following terms to describe female drinking: "buzzed," "light-headed," "loopy," or "tipsy." These words were also used to describe moderate drinking.

Most of the students in the study used the following terms to describe male drinking: "hammered," "plastered," "smashed," "trashed," or "wasted." These words were also used to describe heavy drinking.

Regardless of how intoxicated the character was in the scenario, on average, moderate drinking words were used to describe female drinkers and heavy drinking words were used to describe male drinkers.

Both male and female students used heavy drinking words to describe the males in the drinking scenarios, but not the female characters, regardless of how drunk a character was acting in the scenario.

Female participants used the moderate drinking words to describe moderate drinking in the scenarios, regardless of the characters' gender.

Male participants used more heavy drinking words to describe male characters that were drinking heavily than to describe female characters that were drinking heavily in the scenarios.

The researchers noted that the students naturally used specific terms to describe different levels of drunkenness, which they had learned either from watching peers drink or from their own experience. 

The researchers also found that women felt they had to keep up with the men when drinking, but that they were looked down on if they became too intoxicated.

This desire to appear to be able to drink as much as the men and yet not act too intoxicated could explain why the women used moderate drinking language to describe the drinking scenarios, regardless of the characters' level of intoxication.

The authors speculated that when women downplayed actual levels of intoxication, the potential for drunk driving, unplanned sexual activity and aggressive interactions could increase.

The researchers also speculated that the widespread use of heavy drinking terms like "wasted" could indicate that students thought that level of intoxication was normal and safe.

The researchers recommended further study into natural drinking language and how it could be used to improve harmful drinking behaviors among college students.

This study was published in July in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provided funding for this project. The study authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
July 10, 2013