To save on money and trips to the bartender, college-aged students often turn to "pre-gaming" — basically, heavy drinking at home before heading out to a bar, club, or social venue. According to new research out of New Zealand high-risk drinking behavior, defined as consuming 11 or more drinks in a single session at least once a month, is much more common among those who pre-game.

“When people pre-drink they increase the amount of alcohol consumed over the night, rather than just substituting cheaper off-premises alcohol for more expensive on-premises alcohol,” said Dr. Sarah MacLean from the University of Melbourne. “Other research shows that pre-drinkers experience greater alcohol-related harm than people who don’t pre-drink.” Maclean and her colleagues used the 2009 Victorian Youth Alcohol and Drug Survey (VYADS), which includes interviews with 60 young adults between the age of 18 and 24 living in Melbourne, as the statistical basis for their study. Results found a significant link between pre-gaming and high-risk drinking even if the individual didn’t intend to get “extremely intoxicated.”

When deciding what caused young adults to pregame, the research team determined it was due to the price of alcohol at liquor retailers compared to bars or clubs. For example, one female respondent who admitted to drinking a bottle of a wine-based drink and four energy drinks before hitting the town gave the answer, "So by the time I’ve drank them I’m [extremely intoxicated]. So it’s a cheap night. Like its $20 plus whatever I buy at the club."

“Another reason given for pre-drinking was to socialize with friends. However, participants who identified this as a primary reason for pre-drinking tended not to drink at the high-risk level,” Dr. MacLean added. “Reducing the availability of cheap packaged alcohol has potential to limit both pre-drinking and high-risk drinking in young adults.”

A similar study conducted by Australian researchers from Deakin University and Hunter New England Population Health revealed how pre-gaming can affect the rate of violence at nightclubs. Researchers analyzed alcohol-related crime prevention measures which included locking club doors after 1:30 a.m., closing clubs by 3:30 a.m., restricting the number of drinks one patron is served, eliminating alcohol shots after 10 p.m. and ID scanners. “That drinking before going out was shown to be a major predictor of harm in the nighttime economy indicates that addressing this practice requires strong action by government to turn this increasing trend around,” said Associate Professor at Deakin, Peter Miller. “The problem could be addressed by introducing a levy on packaged liquor to make it less attractive for people to pre-drink before going out clubbing. Limiting trading hours was found to be immediately effective in reducing the alcohol-related crime rates in Newcastle.”

Source: Callinan S, MacLean S. “Fourteen Dollars for One Beer! Pre-drinking is associated with high-risk drinking among Victorian young adults.” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. 2013.