College Students Downplay or Underestimate Female Intoxication, Study Says

A new study reveals that men and women use different words to describe levels of intoxication.

A new study suggests that college students are more likely to downplay or underestimate intoxication in women than in men.

"Our participants were more likely to say that women are only tipsy even when they are actually heavily intoxicated," Ash Levitt, 32, a research scientist at the Research Institute on Addictions at SUNY Buffalo, who published the study this year, told ABC News.

"On the contrary, our participants were able to accurately say how drunk a male was," Levitt added.

Participation in the online survey was open to the entire student body; almost one in three of those who participated were in a fraternity or sorority, and they received academic credit for participating. So while Levitt's study is limited, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as part of the National Institutes of Health, young adults ages 18 to 24 pose a higher risk for alcohol abuse than older adults.

"It's possible that people simply do not know how to tell if a college-aged woman is moderately or heavily intoxicated," Levitt said. "Or it could be the case that they do know how intoxicated a college-aged woman is, but they are trying to minimize it."

This could be especially true for women determining how intoxicated their female friends are.

"Our study showed that women are less likely than men to accurately tell how intoxicated other women are," Levitt said.

In addition, "research shows that a double standard exists here. In one case women feel pressure to drink just as much as men. But at the same time women feel pressure to appear as though they do not drink too much," Levitt said.

Levitt and a team of researchers collected data from 139 college students who were asked to describe the intoxication level of fictional characters.

"We had the participants read a fictional story about a character going to a bar to celebrate their birthday. The story described the character's gender, how much they drank, and how they behaved," Levitt explained.

Then the participants had to describe the character from a list of words researchers have found people naturally use to describe intoxication levels.

"The words either described moderate intoxication, like 'tipsy,' or heavy intoxication, like 'hammered,'" Levitt continued.

Levitt is conducting further tests to see how well these words describe intoxication compared to actual blood alcohol content.

"If our findings show that words like 'hammered' describe high blood alcohol content and words like 'tipsy' describe low blood alcohol content, then we would suggest that future alcohol education programs targeted at college students use these words in their lessons," Levitt said. "Research shows that the more tailored alcohol education programs are towards individuals the more effective they become."