Looking around a bar, club, or spaceship it may be difficult to assess your own drunkenness after a few rounds of rosé. Your sober friend has you feeling like you may be a mess, but the group taking shots nearby is a reminder that you may be composed, after all.
A study published Monday confirms humans’ tendency to asses sobriety based not on how much we actually drank, but on the sobriety of people of the same gender around us. Researchers from Cardiff University in Wales found that while surrounded by drunk people, someone will likely underestimate his own levels of intoxication. When around sober people, a drunk person will soon feel that general sense of wow-maybe-I-need-to-cool-it.
It’s an unproven assumption that people who drink to excess imagine that everyone else does the same. Most studies just have people judge how they feel based on when they are sober. This paper — published in BMC Public Health — is different, though. It’s the first to have people judge their own intoxication while actually being drunk in a drinking setting.
The researchers had studied 1,862 individuals with a mean age of 27 years old. From 8 p.m. on a Friday to 3 a.m. on a Saturday; the test subjects drank, had their Breath Alcohol Content levels measured, and then judged for themselves how drunk they were. A subset of 400 people within the study were also asked more extensive questions – such as how heavy they perceived their drinking to be and if they thought there were any potential health consequences.
On average, people thought they were “moderately drunk” and “moderately at risk” although their BrAC levels exceeded the legal driving limits in the United Kingdom and the United States. When asked “How drunk are you right now?”, the answers didn’t match their actual levels of intoxication, but rather how drunk everyone else was at the bar.
This study is in line with previous research that has found that the definition of “excessive drinking” depends on cultural norms. It may seem more common to drink more if you are from Estonia instead of the United States. This new study demonstrates that this happens on a microlevel and regardless of physiological changes. You make the mistake of judging yourself against your friends playing drunk-Jenga in the corner instead of what you know will happen to your body after that next beer.