A new word has entered the New Oxford American Dictionary: “pre-gaming.” Not a sports or recreation term, it’s the practice of downing alcohol before attending a school event or party where liquor is banned or in short supply.
How does “pre-gaming” differ from the partying college students have done for generations? “It’s more strategic,” explains EDC’s Beth DeRicco, co-author with colleague Bill DeJong of a new EDC study on the phenomenon. “The kind of drinking we’re talking about is more planned and intense,” she says—and arguably more dangerous. Students in focus groups described fast-paced, high-volume drinking with the sole intention of getting very drunk.
For this exploratory study, DeRicco tapped a diverse sample of 112 college students from 10 colleges and universities in Pennsylvania. Results suggest that pre-gaming is a widespread and entrenched feature of the campus drinking culture; for example, during one two-week period, 67 percent of students reported that they had “pre-gamed,” and 80 percent reported consuming five or more drinks at a sitting.
Reasons cited for pre-gaming include saving money at bars and avoiding restrictions on drinking at campus events. But perhaps the most common reason was to alleviate social anxiety. Many noted that pre-gaming helped them “loosen up” or become more “outgoing and free-spirited.”
“I was saddened by the level of social anxiety I heard expressed between men and women in this study,” says DeRicco. “Many of these young people don’t know how to talk to each other or how to be alone together without alcohol.”
Implications from the report suggest that broader policy and stricter enforcement might not be the answer, as students quickly devise ways around regulations. Instead, DeRicco recommends individual approaches that identify high-risk drinkers early and intervene directly. At the broader level, she suggests that schools launch campaigns that focus on student misperceptions about drinking, and reducing peer pressure to drink in excess.
Originally published on January 1, 2007