Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Tipsy or Trashed?


A group of friends is celebrating a birthday at a local bar. One of the ladies finishes her fourth drink and gets up to use the bathroom, struggling to get off the bar stool. Meanwhile, one of the men orders his fifth drink and rowdily calls for a round of shots for the group. A little while after cake, it’s time to go and the group says their good-byes and heads home.

How would you describe the woman mentioned? The young man? Would you call her tipsy or trashed? Would you call him buzzed or blitzed?

According to a new report published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, descriptive words for severe alcohol-use change based on the drinker’s gender. Female characters set in a hypothetical situation in which their drinking and actions portray that they are heavily intoxicated are described with moderate-drinking terms, like tipsy or buzzed, while male characters in a similar situation are described more accurately with terms like trashed, blitzed or plastered.

The descriptive language associated with drinking and intoxication levels plays a heavy role in the perception of drinking. For college students, the perception of drinking can be virtually disconnected from the reality of drinking. This is due to a variety of reasons, says Jennifer Cervi, assistant director of the Collegiate Recovery Program at UTSA.

“There’s the social pressure that drinking is a part of college,” explains Cervi. “There’s that pressure to fit in and be like everyone else… I think the perception is that everybody drinks. I think the reality is that everybody doesn’t have to drink and that we do have a choice.”

Cervi, a recovering alcoholic herself, is seven years sober. “For me personally, I had this image of what college was supposed to be like. My first week I pledged a sorority before school had even started. I tattooed my bid letters on my ankle,” she says, glancing towards her feet. “They’re covered up now, but I wanted to be a part of that college scene… I left that university two years later with a .011 GPA.”

The “college scene” not only includes, but is also shaped by, colloquial college language. “How do we define what’s acceptable for men and women?” asks Cervi. Those definitions are set by social norms, or the perceptions of those social norms, which are in turn set by how society describes norms to younger generations.

Differences between the way intoxicated women and men are described can set the perceptive boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

“Think about it,” says Cervi. “According to body weight and body size, women can’t drink as much as men. But if we just say she’s tipsy, she’s okay.”

Because of socialization and expectations, women’s intoxication levels are downplayed, and women are assigned terms like tipsy or buzzed, which can be inaccurate descriptions.

There isn’t a gender that deals with more pressure. Stereotypes of acceptable behavior place equal pressure on both men and women, says Cervi. However, the pressures on men differ from those on women. Men are in turn expected to drink and be drunk, trashed and hammered.

The dangers of misperceptions of drinking are sometimes evident and other times hidden.

Underestimating intoxication levels leads to high-risk behaviors, including changes in dating practices, explains Cervi. “I think that’s when we need to be aware of sexual violence.”

Over emphasizing intoxication for men can cause pressure not only to drink, but to do so at a faster rate or for longer, extended periods of time.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), men were involved in more than triple the number of fatal car accidents due to alcohol in 2010. Men were also seven times more likely to die from alcohol poisoning.

“This is a guesstimation,” says Cervi. “But I would likely think it’s because men are less likely to call a cab, less likely to admit how much they’ve really had to drink… and that two beers still affects them and that they’re not able to drive.”

In the “college scene,” men are expected to drink in excess and still be able to function reasonably.

However, if women are described as less intoxicated than they actually are, Ash Levitt, the researcher that led the study, is worried they could have the same misguided judgments for normal activity after alcohol use.

“It’s certainly easy to imagine a situation where (women) drive after leaving a bar, where they are too intoxicated to drive,” Levitt told NPR.

Hidden danger factors include overlooking harmful drinking patterns among peers. Under-emphasizing intoxication for women has made the increasing rate of women binge-drinking virtually unnoticeable.

Binge drinking is defined as exceeding four drinks per day for men and three drinks per day for women, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). The NIAAA also recommends not exceeding 14 drinks per week for men and seven drinks per week for women.

A second report published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research reveals that while drinking in male students decreases from the start of freshman year to the end of their sophomore year, women’s drinking plateaus. The CDC reported that binge drinking in young females is a heavily “under-recognized problem.”

“There’s a huge difference in standards,” explains Cervi. “I don’t think we like to acknowledge that a woman is binge drinking because it’s not socially acceptable. It’s not lady-like or proper behavior.”

Both studies’ results are ideal for creating safe alcohol-use campaigns, especially those gender-specific. The results also help close the gap between the reality and perceptions of college drinking.

Cervi believes the safest way to go about drinking is to be “educated in the decisions you’re making.”

“You’re here at this university to experience all of it,” she says. “I don’t want it to come across preachy — like ‘Don’t drink!’ It’s more like, ‘Experience everything you can at this university.’”

Developing dangerous drinking habits seem to fall under the common misconception of “It won’t happen to me.”

“I’m from a good family, and I thought I had a college degree,” Cervi warns. “There’s the picture that an alcoholic and an addict looks like a 65-year-old man that’s drinking and homeless — not like an 18-year-old that is drinking and suddenly is failing out of school. Addiction is everywhere.

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