Pregaming presents a new challenge
for campus officials.
more drinks in about two hours; for a typical adult female,
having four or more drinks in the same time frame.
Our focus group discussions revealed that how much
students drink when pregaming is greatly influenced by what
they expect to drink later and who they will encounter later. If
alcohol will be unavailable, or if the price will be high, then
students will drink more in advance. At the same time,
students will drink less when pregaming if they are later
attending an event that campus officials will also be attending.
A New Challenge
Drinking prior to a planned event is nothing new, but
pregaming is different from the pre-event drinking of past
generations, which involved having a drink or two before a
social event. In contrast, most of our focus group participants
described pregaming episodes where the whole point was to
drink shots of distilled spirits to get drunk as quickly as
possible, or at least to set the stage for becoming intoxicated
later. Drinking games, which promote rapid drinking, were
often part of their pregaming.
Pregaming presents a new challenge for campus officials.
First, this behavior is difficult to detect. The typical
pregaming episode is brief, involves a small group of students,
and is done in private, all of which makes the enforcement of
campus drinking policies far more difficult.
Second, environmental management strategies that reduce
overall underage and high-risk drinking rates—for example,
restricting the availability of alcohol, hosting more alcohol-free events, imposing stricter party rules, eliminating low-price
bar promotions, and increasing fake identification checks—
may be pushing some student drinkers to pregame.
To develop an adequate response to pregaming, campus officials first need to learn about the situation on their campus.
To start, administrators should add questions about
pregaming to their ongoing student surveys (see sidebar on
“Pregaming Survey Questions”).
Conducting student focus groups and one-on-one interviews can reveal what motivates this behavior. The moderator
should ask students to describe a typical pregaming episode:
Where did they drink? How much did they drink? How long
was the pregaming episode? Where did they go next? Other
questions can cover how preloading differs from other types of
drinking, the role of drinking games, and the perceived benefits and risks of such drinking.
Providing basic education on the risks of pregaming is essential. Administrators can present this information in multiple
ways—for example, education programs for first-year
students, including Web sites and online courses; health
education classes; sanctioned courses for adjudicated students;
and health communication campaigns.
The personal risks that can arise from high blood alcohol
levels are especially critical to communicate. In our study,
males and females engaged in pregaming at similar rates. This
is particularly concerning given the way in which alcohol
affects women and the health and safety risks they can face
Education programs should also focus on skills for avoiding
dangerously elevated blood alcohol levels when drinking prior
to another event—for example, being aware of how much
alcohol is in a drink, pacing drinks to no more than one per
hour, alternating non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages, and
consuming food when drinking.
Pregaming Survey Questions
The student questionnaire should provide a definition
“Pregaming refers to the practice of drinking alcohol
in a private setting prior to attending an organized
event/social activity where alcohol might or might not
The following questions can be asked of students who
1. Think back over the last two weeks. How often have
you participated in pre-gaming?
❏ 3– 5 times
❏ 6– 9 times
❏ 10 or more times
2. Think about the last time you participated in
pregaming prior to attending a later event or
A “drink” is defined as a bottle of beer ( 12 oz.), a glass
of wine ( 4 oz.), a wine cooler ( 12 oz.) or a shot of liquor
( 1 oz.) served straight or in a mixed drink.
How many drinks did you have while pregaming?
How long did this pregaming episode last?
________ hours ________ minutes
Note: Question #2, when combined with information about
gender and current body weight, can be used to develop a
crude estimate of the student’s maximum BAC during the