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Pre-Drinking Not Always a Good Idea

Study shows that pre-drinking could lead to risky behavior and excessive drinking habits.

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Man drinking beer-- by Alexia Severson

The Gist

Many young people “pre-drink” before a night out to save money at the bar, but research from the U.S. and the U.K. shows that this tactic can lead to harmful heavy drinking in public settings. The results of this research will be published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research in February 2013.

Pre-drinking, or "pre-gaming," typically occurs in locations where low-cost alcohol, bought off-premise, is consumed rapidly and in large quantities. However when this kind of drinking is combined with on-premise drinking, young people often end up drinking twice as much as they would otherwise, according to a study using Swiss data.

Pre-drinking was found in about one third of all on-premise drinking in Switzerland, which is a very high rate, according to Florian Labhart, a researcher at Addiction Switzerland and corresponding author for the study.

Other studies of pre-drinking have revealed similar prevalence rates in the United States and Europe, and may in fact be most prevalent among underage drinkers in the U.S due to legal drinking age requirements, said researchers.

The Expert Take

In terms of specific risky behavior due to drinking, 47.5 percent of participants in this study reported negative outcomes, such as a hangover, unplanned substance use, blackouts, unintended or unprotected sexual intercourse, injury to self or someone else, and property damage or vandalism. Among all outcomes, blackouts and hangover were the most prevalent.

"Although pre-drinking has not received the attention it deserves thus far, it appears that researchers are beginning to recognize the importance of gaining a better understanding of this risky and prevalent drinking context," said Shannon R. Kenney, visiting assistant research professor and associate director of the Heads Up Research Lab in the Psychology Department at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California.

Pre-drinking is especially harmful because it leads to a drinking pattern in which young people drink on two occasions in one night—one off-premise followed by one on-premise. And underage drinkers may be even more inclined to pre-drink to get "buzzed" before going to a concert or club, where they can’t legally drink.

"Excessive consumption and adverse consequences are not simply related to the type of people who pre-drink, but rather to the practice of pre-drinking itself,” Labhart said.

Source and Method

Researchers examined the drinking practices of 183 young adults (97 women, 86 men) with a mean age of 23 years from three higher education institutions in Switzerland. An internet-based, cell phone-optimized assessment technique (ICAT) was used to assess alcohol consumption and drinking location at six time points, from 5 p.m. to the next morning, on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays during five consecutive weeks by means of the participants' cell phones.

A total of 7,828 assessments were provided for analysis for 1,441 evenings. The study authors examined the association between pre-drinking, overnight drinking levels, and negative outcomes.

The Takeaway

When drinking socially, it’s important to know your limit and keep track of the number of drinks you consume in a given amount of time.

Based on the results of this study, researchers recommend prevention practices that incorporate educational interventions and structural measures, such as reduced late-night off-sale opening hours, and more staff training regarding responsible beverage service practices.

Kenney also recommended “being mindful of internal bodily sensations, pacing drinks, or avoiding chugging or drinking games, which may enable drinkers to more fully enjoy safer drinking experiences and avoid negative consequences."

Other Research

study published in Addictive Behaviors in December 2011, examined whether there was a link between drinking intentions, heavy episodic drinking history, and pre-drinking behaviors among young adults. Researchers found that men and women have similar pre-drinking behaviors and that participants surveyed in the evening, after pre-drinking, intended to drink more. Methods of preventing harmful pre-drinking behaviors were also discussed.

Research published in Addiction in January 2009, questioned whether it mattered when and where a person gets drunk. Past researchers have hypothesized that drinking on-premise was safer than getting drunk off-premise due to being in a controlled environment. However, this analysis suggests that whether drinking on-premise or off-premise, the goal of actually getting drunk is often the underlying motivation for young people.

Another study published in Addiction in January 2009 described the research, policy, and prevention implications of pre-drinking using research literature, media, and popular internet vehicles. Researchers concluded that for effective drinking policies and prevention in licensed premises, drinking that occurs both on-premise and off-premise need to be taken into consideration, as well as the "determined drunkenness" goal of some young people.

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Tags: Awareness , Latest Studies & Research

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