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Why Do People Drunk Dial?

Research identifies drunk dialing motives.

With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, affectionately known as Singles Awareness Day, many individuals will undoubtedly engage in two things: one, thinking about a possible (or former) romantic partner, and two, drinking one or two (or three...) alcoholic beverages.

Alcohol lowers our inhibition levels, which may cause us to say things that we normally wouldn't if we were sober. This happens when we over-share on a second date (too much wine?), call a former romantic partner, or text/Snapchat graphic images.

This may be especially pronounced within a culture of random sexual hookups and binge drinking. Consider that alcohol is a common theme of random sexual hookups. (See this previous post.) Binge drinking is common, and the CDC defines binge drinking as a BAC .08+. What does the CDC say this looks like? For women, it is consuming 4+ drinks in a two-hour period; for men, it is consuming 5+ drinks in a two-hour period.

With the above information in mind, two questions remain unanswered:

  1. Why do individuals engage in cell phone communication when intoxicated?
  2. Is it only about sex?

Recent research by Ferris and Hollenbaugh addressed this. Their findings are subsequently reviewed, though it is important to note that their study only addressed phone communication (not text messaging, online communication, hook-up application communication, etc.).

Based on their study of 433 individuals who were about 20 years old, they identified five motives driving drunk dialing behavior (note that the average age is under the legal drinking age):

  1. Social lubricant: Essentially, “this motive meant that people drunk dialed because they had more confidence, had more courage, could express themselves better, and felt less accountability for their actions."
  2. Entertainment: Here, participants engaged in cell phone use while intoxicated because “they thought it was funny, that others thought it was funny, and to have a good story to talk about later."
  3. Coordination: The motive driving intoxicated communication here explains that calls were made “in order to meet up or make plans with others, or to see what others were doing."
  4. Confession of Emotion: Here, individuals called “to tell a friend or romantic interest that they love and/or miss them."
  5. Sexuality: This motive describes calls “due to sexual arousal, to initiate sex, or to ‘hook up’ with someone."

Although society loves to celebrate sex differences, or the idea that men and women are so different, research documents that one’s sex accounts for little variance in their communication. Consistent with this finding, there were no sex differences in the frequency of drunk dialing behaviors.

Collectively, the above information describes why people engage in phone communication while intoxicated. Future research is necessary to understand how this relates to text messaging, sending photos, and overall “sexting” behavior.

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Facebook image: Damir Khabirov/Shutterstock


Ferris, A. L., & Hollenbaugh, E. E. (2011). Drinking and dialing: An exploratory study of why college students make cell phone calls intoxicated. Ohio Communication Journal, 49, 103-126.

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