"Pre-drinking" by young people leads to heavier drinking and… (European Pressphoto Agency )
They call it "pre-drinking," "pre-partying" or "pre-funking," and it usually involves chugging cheap alcoholic drinks before heading out to a bar, club or sporting event.
While addiction experts estimate that 65% to 75% of college-age youths engage in such boozy behavior, a Swiss study concludes that such "pre-loaded" evenings are far more likely to end in blackouts, unprotected sex, unplanned drug use or injury.
"Pre-drinking is a pernicious drinking pattern," said coauthor Florian Labhart, a researcher at Addiction Info Switzerland, in Lausanne. "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."
The study, to be published in an upcoming issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, examined the drinking habits of more than 250 Swiss students.
For five weeks, the test subjects were surveyed via Internet and cellphone text messages. Each Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, the students were questioned hourly about how many drinks they had just consumed.
Researchers found that when students drank prior to going to a bar or club, they drank more than the would otherwise. On average, pre-drinking students consumed seven drinks, and students who drank only at a bar or event consumed just over four drinks.
This increased drinking was associated with a greater likelihood of blackouts, hangovers, absences from work or school or alcohol poisoning. Pre-drinkers were also found to engage more often in unintended drug use, unsafe sex, drunken driving or violent behavior.
The study found that while students who drank only at a bar or club stood an 18% chance of experiencing negative consequences, students who drank beforehand stood a 24% chance of seeing their evening end in mishap.
Study authors cited several motivations for pre-drinking, which practitioners also called "pre-gaming," "pre-loading" or "frontloading."
"Reasons given for pre-drinking include saving money, getting in the mood for partying, becoming intoxicated and socializing with friends or facilitating contacts with potential sexual partners," the authors wrote.
Shannon R. Kenney, a sociology professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, said pre-drinking behavior was likely as prevalent, or more so, in the United States, where the legal drinking age was much higher. In Switzerland, youths can legally purchase alcohol at age 16.
Kenney, who did not participate in the study, said the concept of pre-drinking has only recently been studied by addiction experts. Because of its risky nature and prevalence, she said, it warranted closer examination.
Study authors noted several possible shortcomings in their study. Among them was that only students with Internet capable cellphones could participate. Also, the study questions were extremely short, so that they could be read on a small cellphone screen or answered by someone in an intoxicated state.