The Language of Subjective Alcohol Effects: Do Young Adults Vary in Their Feelings of Intoxication?

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Among young adults, subjective feelings of alcohol's effects often guide risky decision making. The majority of studies measuring subjective effects have used singular indices ("How drunk do you feel?") which limits our understanding of young adults' full range of subjective states and their individual differences in subjective effects language. Toward a more in-depth understanding of the heterogeneity among alcohol users based on their subjective experiences of alcohol's effects, we identified latent classes of individuals based on their self-generated language describing feelings after drinking and compared these classes across demographic and drinking characteristics. Participants (N = 323, 54% women, 68% White, Ages 18-25 years) were recruited using Amazon's Mechanical Turk (MTurk). Participants listed words they would use to describe how they feel after drinking low, moderate, and heavy amounts of alcohol. Four latent classes of young adults emerged: "happy drinkers" (31%) primarily reported feeling "happy" when drinking; "relaxed drinkers" (24%) reported feeling happy, relaxed, and buzzed; "buzzed drinkers" (18%) reported feeling buzzed and dizzy; and "multiexperience drinkers" (27%) reported feeling buzzed, tipsy, drunk, and wasted. Relaxed drinkers indicated heavier alcohol use and buzzed drinkers reported lower drinking frequency. Classes did not differ by demographic characteristics. Young adult alcohol users can be distinguished based on the language they use to describe their feelings of intoxication. To continue to advance our understanding of subjective effects, it is necessary to take into account the full range of language used and how this language differs by young adult drinking behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalExperimental and clinical psychopharmacology
StateAccepted/In press - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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