Question of the Week

December 30, 2008


People who drink alcohol tend to talk about their experiences differently. Some people can try to make it sound positive, others can try to turn it into something to boast about. Still others talk about how much they drank in such a way so as to make it seem like no big deal. Whatever the tone or the vocabulary used, whether someone is describing one drink or five, how the alcohol affects the body is not up for interpretation.

"A study has examined the language used to describe how drunk people are and found that women underestimate their intoxication by using words like 'tipsy'. Women tended to use euphemistic language when describing their drinking where as men used more forceful words, like 'hammered' and 'wasted'. The researchers found that when women described an evening's drinking as getting 'tipsy' they were talking about consuming four drinks over two hours which is actually classed as a binge for females. When doctors and researchers ask people about their drinking they do not take into account how words like 'drunk' can be highly subjective, the researchers said."

Very few people are going to label themselves as "smashed" and then get behind the wheel of a car. Someone may say that they are just "tipsy" or "buzzed" and then justify that they should be fine to drive.

[I]mpaired driving remains one of America's deadliest social problems. In 2004, nearly 13,000 drivers or motorcycle operators died in crashes with a BAC [blood alcohol concentration] level of .08 or above- the illegal limit in all states. Most people don't intend to drive home drunk, but too many find themselves at the end of the night without a sober designated driver. Unfortunately, many of these drivers convince themselves and friends that they are able to drive with the comment, 'I'm okay, I'm just buzzed.'"

Even "buzzed" is enough to impair judgment and slow reaction times enough to make it so that a person should not be driving.

"It is illegal to drive with a BAC of 0.08% or higher in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Young people:

  • At all levels of BAC, the risk of being involved in a crash is greater for young people than for older people. In 2006, 19% of drivers ages 16 to 20 who died in motor vehicle crashes had been drinking alcohol.
  • Young men ages 18 to 20 (under the legal drinking age) reported driving while alcohol-impaired more than any other age group.
  • Of the 1,746 traffic fatalities among children ages 0 to 14 years in 2006, about one out of every six (17%) involved an alcohol-impaired driver."

The vocabulary can vary from person to person, but the meaning is still the same. Whatever the word that is used to describe someone who is under the influence of alcohol, that person is still under the influence and needs to be careful not to try to convince themselves (or others) that they're safe to drive or make other potentially unsafe decisions.

tipsy -adjective,
"slightly intoxicated or drunk"

wasted -adjective
"Slang. overcome by the influence of alcohol or drugs."

drunk -adjective
"being in a temporary state in which one's physical and mental faculties are impaired by an excess of alcoholic drink"

One drink will not affect the body in the same way that four or more drinks will, but getting drunk is still getting drunk.

"'Getting drunk' or intoxicated is the result of consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. Binge drinking typically results in acute intoxication. Alcohol intoxication can be detrimental to health for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to

  • Impaired brain function resulting in poor judgment, reduced reaction time, loss of balance and motor skills, or slurred speech.
  • Dilation of blood vessels causing a feeling of warmth but resulting in rapid loss of body heat.
  • Increased risk of certain cancers, stroke, and liver diseases (e.g. cirrhosis), particularly when excessive amounts of alcohol are consumed over extended periods of time.
  • Damage to a developing fetus if consumed by pregnant women.
  • Increased risk of motor-vehicle traffic crashes, violence, and other injuries.
Coma and death can occur if alcohol is consumed rapidly and in large amounts because of depression of the central nervous system."

Questions of the Week:
How does the vocabulary people use to describe themselves (or someone else) when intoxicated influence how they interpret how much the alcohol is affecting them? How can the different terms people use be misleading or confusing? What other factors (aside from subjective terminology) can help people determine whether or not they (or someone else) is too drunk to drive, or even to make safe decisions?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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