'Pre-partying' can kick off a big night of boozing

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

College binge drinking has been on the public health radar for years, but new research sheds light on the extent of the problem on campuses today -- especially "pre-partying," participating in heavy, rapid drinking before attending a real party where the drinking continues.

Three-quarters of college drinkers say they "pre-party," and about 45 percent of all drinking events involve a pre-party.

That is according to a study in the December "Journal of American College Health", which features 16 articles rounding up recent research and recommendations.
About 85 percent of the 227 students who participated in the study were considered drinkers; findings are representative of all U.S. students, researchers say.

The study was led by Joseph LaBrie, assistant professor of psychology and director of an alcohol awareness program at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Students ages 18 to 25 were surveyed about their drinking habits over a one-month period. Among findings:

# Men reported 523 drinking events in the past month; 45 percent involved pre-parties. Women reported 654 drinking events, and 55 percent pre-partied. Both men and women reported heavy episodic drinking during 68 percent of events.

# On pre-partying days, men consumed about eight drinks on average and women consumed about six. On days when students went to parties but did not pre-party, men consumed an average of six drinks and women consumed about four.

# Of all drinking events involving pre-partying, 80 percent involved additional drinking afterward.

LaBrie says pre-partying is just now coming on the radar of administrators, although it has been a well-known behavior among students for some time. Most pre-partying is done in dorm rooms of underage students, he says.

"It's a judgment question. Pre-partying raises blood alcohol levels and impairs students' judgment, and then they continue drinking."

Hangovers, fights and sexual assaults also are more likely to occur on nights when students pre-party, according to the study. Nearly 600,000 injuries and 700,000 assaults result from excessive drinking each year, says the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

LaBrie says pre-partying should be addressed in prevention and intervention tactics on campuses.

Several journal articles recommend that policies focus on promoting responsible drinking and harm-reduction strategies, rather than trying to prohibit drinking.

One study, by Larry Hembroff of Michigan State University's office of survey research, examined a program that sends cards to students nearing their 21st birthdays. The cards encourage students to drink responsibly and are signed by the parents of a student who died from alcohol poisoning.

Of students who received the card, 74 percent of those surveyed saved part of the card, 12 percent say they drank less because of it, and 98 percent said the university should continue sending the cards.

"We can't just stay the course. When something doesn't work we have to try something new," says Reginald Fennel, executive editor of the journal.

source: USA Today