Had a few pints over the course of a night out?
Chances are you turn to a friend to ask whether you are beyond the point of socially acceptable levels of tipsiness.
That (un)lucky friend may look for signs of mumbling, exuberance that’s reminiscent of old Hollywood starlets, or co-ordination on par with a toddler.
But according to new research, those who have more than their fair share of tipples are not the only ones who don beer goggles.
A cohort of drug and alcohol researchers from the University of Sydney, Melbourne’s La Trobe University and New Zealand’s University of Otago found drinkers and their sober mates are poor judges of their alcohol intake once they are multiple times over the limit.
“We found that self and observer ratings of intoxication appear to be underestimated at higher levels of BAC (blood alcohol concentration),” the report author’s wrote.
They made that call after studying how university students self-reported their intoxication levels while attending music concerts on campus during their orientation week.
As most graduates would know, O-week is prime time for students to (in adopting the words of one state premier) get on the beers.
Their judgments were made on a zero to 10 scale, where zero implied the student thought they were stone-cold sober, while 10 meant they believed they were flat-out drunk.
Researchers, on the other hand, came into the interview sober as a judge, and were also required to rank each participant on the same scale by looking for glassy or red eyes, slurred speech and poor motor skills.
And to find out whether drinkers and sober strangers were on the money, the students were then subjected to a standard breath test.
Based on the survey of 388 students, the researchers found people who have one to two drinks, as well as sober folk around them, gauged their alcohol levels relatively accurately.
However, things get blurry once a participant has two to three times the legal blood alcohol limit in their system.
The study found both students and sober researchers more frequently underestimated how drunk people were once hitting those hangover-inducing levels of intoxication.
And that divide grows even wider when observing older drinkers.
When the average student reported drinking 7.1 beverages before their interview (meaning half drank more than that amount), that’s a worry.
The report surmised part of the reason why hard drinkers – and those around them – had difficulty judging higher intoxication levels was due to some drinkers’ ability to mask the tell-tale signs of a boisterous night out.
The researchers also pointed out a ‘ceiling effect’, where observers were unlikely to see the worst symptoms of severe intoxication because students were surveyed en route to campus events.
So, what does this mean?
Well, it shows drinkers and their mates are more likely to play down how much they’ve had to drink as a night goes on, and that professionals – including police officers and bartenders – can be surprisingly poor at assessing whether pubgoers are blind drunk.
So, next time you ask your designated driver whether you’ve had one too many, maybe it’s time to swap the pint for a bottle of water.