While women prefer to describe their intoxication levels as feeling "tipsy," men prefer to say "hammered." Is there a difference between the two and does it really matter?

The study, that will be published in the December 2013 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, described the phenomenon discovered among college-age students. When asked to describe how drunk one of their friends is, they tend to apply more moderate terms like "tipsy" or "buzzed" to women, even when females are heavily intoxicated, a new study reveals. Meanwhile, men's drinking tends to be described in terms reflecting excessive consumption, such as "hammered," "trashed" or "wasted."

"Drinkers use a complex set of physical and cognitive indicators to estimate intoxication," said Ash Levitt, a research scientist at the Research Institute on Addictions at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. "In order to quickly and easily communicate various levels of intoxication, drinkers distill these indicators down into distinct sets of natural language terms for intoxication, such as 'tipsy' or 'wasted.' Understanding this language is important as these terms reflect levels of intoxication as well as whether individuals are accurately estimating intoxication levels when they use these terms."

In the study, researchers asked 145 college students to read a brief story of a situation involving four friends - two men and two women - celebrating the main character's birthday in a bar.

In each story, the researchers switched the sex of the main character, how much he or she drank, and how this person behaved. Study participants rated on a scale from 1 to 5 how well each of four moderate drinking terms (including "buzzed" and "tipsy") or 11 heavy drinking terms (including "obliterated" and "tanked") applied to the main character in the story. 

"Female participants applied moderate intoxication terms to moderately intoxicated characters more than male participants. Additionally, male participants applied heavy intoxication terms more to heavily intoxicated male characters compared with heavily intoxicated female characters," authors wrote.

The reason for this, authors surmised, was possibly due to societal pressures.

"Although women perceive that they are expected to drink as much as men in college drinking culture, women may be negatively perceived by both male and female peers when drinking heavily," authors wrote. "This double standard may lead women to apply moderate intoxication terms to themselves and to other women to downplay their level of intoxication and not violate perceived social and gender norms."

Researchers noted several limiting factors in their study, including the fact that the test subjects were overwhelmingly white and ranged in age from 17 to 22. It was unclear whether the study results applied to non-college-age men and women, authors wrote.