A STRATEGIC RESPONSE TO
The past 20 years have seen an important evolution in how college officials think
about preventing student alcohol problems. In the past, administrators focused
on two approaches: educating students about the dangers of alcohol and identi-
fying and treating problem drinkers. These efforts can make a difference in the
lives of individual students, but they are inadequate for reducing alcohol-related problems in
the general student population.
Looking to the field of public health for guidance, leading
prevention experts have come to realize that college officials
should be employing a broader approach that addresses the
physical, social, legal, and economic environment in which
students are making decisions about their drinking. Using
this approach, called environmental management, several
colleges and universities have seen big drops in alcohol-related problems. Yet, even as more and more campuses
move in this direction, a disturbing new drinking trend has
emerged, one that puts even environmental management
to the test: pregaming.
The main event students plan to attend—a party, sporting
event, other campus-sponsored activities, or just going to a
bar—is called the game. Pregaming is the drinking that
occurs beforehand. It usually involves a small group of
friends who gather in a residence hall room, car, or other
private location to drink large amounts of alcohol, usually in
a short period of time. Pregaming is potentially dangerous,
and it appears to be widespread.
To learn more about this emerging problem, we conducted
focus groups in 2006 with 112 full-time students attending
a diverse group of 10 Pennsylvania colleges and universities.
We recruited one focus group per campus, drawing on
students from both first-year student courses and from
students attending classes for policy violators.
On a pre-discussion questionnaire, nearly nine out of ten
students (87.7%) stated that they had consumed alcohol in
the past two weeks. Among drinkers, 71.3 percent reported
engaging in pregaming during that time. Including nondrinking students, only about one third of the students
( 35.7%) said they had not engaged in pregaming.
Pregaming usually means high-risk drinking. Students
who pregamed reported an average of 4. 9 drinks per session.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
(NIAAA) now defines a binge as a drinking episode that
brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to .08%
or higher. For a typical adult male, this means having five or