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According to a friend of mine, saying someone is 'high' on alcohol as opposed to drunk is incorrect. I always assumed you were drunk when you had too much alcohol and would say someone was high on alcohol until that limit was reached.

In short, I need to know if it's incorrect to say someone is high on alcohol and that someone can only be high on drugs and the like.

closed as off-topic by Drew, curiousdannii, Glorfindel, Phil Sweet, AndyT May 3 '17 at 13:44

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    What research did you do (besides asking your friend)? – Drew May 2 '17 at 0:54
  • @Drew. I searched this stack and did a cursory google search which didn't return any official looking websites mentioning it - nothing I could show someone saying 'It says so here, so it's probably true'. – Ash May 2 '17 at 0:58
  • The terminology is highly variable, changing, among other things, based on how high you are at the time. – Hot Licks May 2 '17 at 1:07
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    'Incorrect' is too strong. One normally associates 'high' with marijuana only and not alcohol, but in some situations you can use them together: "I've been drinking bourbon, whiskey, scotch and gin. Gonna get high man, I'm gonna get loose, Need me a triple shot of that juice". However, it sounds really strange to me, but they is sometimes rarely used together. 'Drunk', without the need to mention alcohol, is the usual term, and 'high' implies marijuana or other non-alcoholic drugs. – Mitch May 2 '17 at 1:21
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    I'd say using 'high' referring to alcohol is "dated". I was more of a term back in the 1950's and 1960's 'rat pack' days. With the more common use of drugs "high" drugs took over the word.. but I'd suggest that it is most frequently use for marijuana if a specific qualifier were omitted (high on cocaine). I would guess that well over 50% of the people would think you were suggesting something other than alcohol if you used the word "high". If a word conveys the wrong thing to too many people.. it's not very descriptive. – Tom22 May 2 '17 at 1:30
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Merriam-Webster defines high as a synonym for drunk, along with more than a dozen other synonyms. I have never heard of high being used to convey a lesser degree of intoxication than drunk. To convey some stage of a slight effect from alcohol, the word tipsy is often used.

High is also commonly used to mean intoxicated on drugs, or in a sense of intense pleasure comparable to intoxication, i.e, "Sunshine almost always gets me high...." lyrics from John Denver circa 1971.

Edited to add another example: The Kingston Trio had a hit from 1958, "Scotch and Soda", which has been widely covered including by Manhattan Transfer in 2011. Lyrics are:

"Scotch and soda, mud in your eye, baby do I feel high, oh me oh my, do I feel high. Dry martini, jigger of gin, oh what a spell you've got me in, oh my, do I feel high. People won't believe me, they'll think that I'm just braggin', that I could feel the way I do, and still be on the wagon. All I need is one of your smiles, sunshine of your eyes oh me oh my, do I feel higher than a kite can fly!
Give me lovin', baby, I feel high."

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It's not incorrect to say someone is

high on alcohol

Good Ngram "high on alcohol"

Here's a Google Ngram chart; from there you can locate web references, e.g., Congressional reports that use "high on alcohol." This becomes more common after 1960 or so.

The Ngram chart (which is similar for American and British English) shows the use of "high on alcohol" increasing in the late 1950s and becoming more prevalent after 1960, which is when it likely became necessary to distinguish, in both speech and written English, between being high on alcohol (before "high" was probably enough) and being high on other drugs.

Some comments have suggested that "high" alone now means "high on drugs", not "high on alcohol." Using the term "high" (he's high, I'm high) in a social setting may be ambiguous, or it may depend on the social setting.

  • Thanks @Xanne. What does the Y-axis indicate here. I mean I can see it peaks at 0.000000450 % around the year 2000. But what does this mean? 0.000000450 % of what? How do I read this? – Ash May 2 '17 at 1:02
  • Can you find an instance where someone says "high on alcohol" without reference to other drugs as well? Aside from that congressional report, which also mentions marijuana in the next sentence? – RaceYouAnytime May 2 '17 at 1:10
  • @Ash Since it's three words, the number of times "high on alcohol" appears out of the total number of 3gams. See here. – Laurel May 2 '17 at 2:11
  • I have edited my answer with another example of lyrics that show "high" referring to alcohol and romance. The commenters who think "high" means on drugs other than alcohol are probably born after 1980. I was in college in the '70s, when marijuana use became common, and then people commonly used "high" for marijuana, but the general sense including for alcohol continued. – Theresa May 2 '17 at 18:14

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