Young people drinkng at a bar
Published on: May 24, 2021

The words young adults use to describe how they feel when they have been drinking alcohol are a key to understanding whether they will engage in risky behaviors such as driving under the influence. A new scale for researchers developed at Penn State has been shown effective in gauging how young adults feel when they have been drinking and predicting the associated negative consequences.

“We wanted to understand which words young adults are using because they are at the highest risk for substance misuse,” said Ashley Linden-Carmichael, assistant research professor of health and human development in the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center and the study’s principal investigator. "We need a consensus on how young adults talk about the effects of alcohol, so we can measure the effects correctly."

The scale consists of four evenly-spaced anchor points — slightly buzzed, tipsy/"happy," drunk, and wasted — and respondents can mark anywhere on the scale. The words used as the scale anchors were determined by crowdsourcing input from young adults in a previous study also led by Linden-Carmichael.

The standard way to measure how intoxicated people feel has been to ask, “How drunk do you feel?” on a zero-to-100 scale. "But different people interpret the word ‘drunk’ in a very different way,” said Linden-Carmichael.