Pre-gaming: A college pastime under attack

by Mike Koutsoudakis

What requires as little as one six-pack of beer and two hours to properly pull off? The answer is pre-gaming.

Pre-gaming is the traditional college practice of drinking alcohol in a dorm room with friends as a way to get ready to drink more someplace else. The pre-gaming ritual is rational because it offers students a safe, controlled environment where they can drink to their heart's content.

The idea is to drink just enough to relax one's inhibitions and, hopefully, make the night more enjoyable. Saving that few dollars that would otherwise be spent at the bar is an added benefit.

But pre-gaming's universal appeal and adoption is raising concerns among some educators as to why it is so prevalent and what impact is it having on the mental and physical health of students.

A recent study of 174 Pennsylvania college students from 10 schools scattered throughout the state was carried out by the Center for College Health and Safety and the results appeared to signify some alarming trends related to pre-gaming. The study prompted attention from federal officials and spurred a dialogue sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education seeking potential remedies.

Beth DeRicco, associate director of the group, said in a presentation to the U.S. Department of Education that students' intentions to moderate their intake once they left their dorms were an unrealistic, if not Herculean, effort.

"It's a strategic decision to get to a high BAC (blood alcohol content) quickly," DeRicco said, according to Inside Higher Ed. "But once they go out, they don't make good decisions, they drink more, they come back with alcohol poisoning and they end up in the E.R."

John Steiner, who attended the meeting, said that pre-gaming is not a new concept but it appears to be getting more popular among students.

"I think small groups of people have for a long time gathered at one another's house to save some bucks and arrive a little buzzed . but it wasn't that frequent." Steiner said, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Several long-term studies contradict this perception. An ongoing study at the University of Michigan sponsored by the National Institutes of Health shows a progressive decrease in drinking by college students. Rates for occasional and binge drinking are in fact the lowest recorded since the study's inception in 1980, showing a nearly 20 percent decline since that time.

The trend is similar for high school students. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, documented record-low levels of drinking among students still in high school.

Restraint, if not outright abstinence, appears to be common in younger age groups.

The recent study of 174 Pennsylvania students contradicts the findings of the two other, larger studies. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey utilized a sample group of 12,272 students from 137 schools and the Michigan study co-opted 1,270 students.

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