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Young adults who engage in pre-drinking, also called pre-gaming, are more likely to drink heavily over the course of an evening than those who don't pre-drink, a new study from Switzerland suggests.
Pre-drinking involves drinking alcohol at home or in a public place, such as a park, before going to a party or bar. Drinkers may want to achieve a "buzz" or get drunk before going out, sometimes in an effort to save money by buying less at the bar.
The study also found that those who pre-drank were more likely to suffer risky or unfavorable consequences of drinking, such as blackouts, hangovers, unplanned substance abuse or unprotected sex.
Pre-drinking is a bigger problem in the U.S. because the legal drinking age is higher than in Switzerland, said Dr. Christopher Welsh, an addiction psychiatrist at University of Maryland who was not involved with the study.
"Young adults are drinking a lot more before they go out, knowing they won't be able to drink at the bar, or party or college event," Welsh said.
The study will be published in the February issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
Pre-gaming doesn't reduce how much alcohol people drink
Some studies have reported that up to 75 percent of U.S. college students engage in pre-drinking. The studies also found that, on average, young men tend to have three to five drinks, while women have two to four drinks during a pre-drinking session.
The goal of saving money by pre-drinking doesn't usually work, Welsh said.
"People want to lower the cost of buying booze," he said. "But they tend to drink just as much as they would at the bar than if they didn't pre-drink."
So they end up spending even more money on alcohol than they initially intended, when taking into account money spent both at the bar and to drink at home.
"People should drink moderately — anywhere, anytime — and the same applies to pre-drinking," said study researcher, Florian Labhart, a research associate from the Addiction Info Switzerland Research Institute.
"It seems trivial, but having one or two drinks at the beginning of the night will still have an impact on your behavior by the end of the night," Labhart said.
In the study, 183 participants were assessed every Thursday, Friday and Saturday for five weeks. Participants received six text messages per evening, with a link to a brief questionnaire asking how much alcohol they had drunk and where they were drinking.
Researchers found that respondents were more likely to experience risky consequences on evenings when they pre-drank than on evenings when they drank only at a bar or club, or only at home.
People who pre-drank consumed an average of seven drinks in an evening, while those who didn't pre-drink consumed only four.
Pre-drinking didn't reduce or replace the amount of alcohol people drank later in the evening, but instead increased their risk of suffering negative consequences caused by even more drinking, said Shannon Kenney, a social psychologist at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles who was not involved with the study.
Blackouts and hangovers were the most commonly reported consequences in the study. Respondents also engaged in substance abuse and unprotected sex.
Keeping track of your drinking
Kenney said that pre-gaming is such a popular behavior that it's unrealistic to think that young adults would stop.
So people who pre-drink should be "more mindful of pacing drinks, or eating before drinking, so they have food in their stomachs," she said.
She also recommended alternating drinking alcohol with drinking water throughout the evening.
"Early on, be aware of your internal bodily sensations," Kenney said. "You're drinking lots of alcohol, so you don't have time to assess your level of intoxication."
Welsh said parents should keep an eye on how much alcohol they keep at home.
"For high school kids, it's harder for them to get alcohol, so they’re going to drink their parent's stash before they go out," he said.
Pass it on: Pre-gaming can lead to more drinking and higher-risk behavior.