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Is “Pre-Drinking” Before a Night Out Harmless or Hazardous?

The consequences of pre-partying may depend partly on the motive for drinking.

Key points

  • Pre-drinking is popular among young people, including approximately two-thirds of college students.
  • People pre-drink to have fun and become intoxicated, but also for “conviviality” and “facilitation” motives.
  • The motivation behind pre-drinking may help determine how many adverse, drinking-related consequences a person suffers.

Many people mix drinks with friends privately before mixing socially in public. Some want to loosen up emotionally; others are tightening their belt financially. For some pre-drinkers, getting together before going out is more about the company than the cocktails.

Given the frequency of pre-event, alcohol-oriented social functions, an important question is: Is pre-partying dangerous? According to research, the answer may depend on the motive for mixing drinks.

Source: ColdwellPro/Pixabay

Mixed Motives for Mixing Drinks

Koen Smit et al. (2021), in a paper examining “Fun/Intoxication Pre-Drinking Motives,”[i] begin by reminding us that in many cases, pre-drinking (often called "pregaming" or "preloading") increases the amount of alcohol consumed over the course of a night out—which is itself linked with a variety of adverse alcohol-related consequences. But does pre-drinking always lead to more alcohol being consumed over the course of the evening?

Acknowledging that the motivation behind pre-drinking may be different for different people, Smit et al. examined how motives interacted with average night-level alcohol use and adverse alcohol-related consequences, such as blackouts, risky sex, fighting, drunk driving, or having a hangover. They also investigated whether pre-drinking motives mediate the link between the level of alcohol use and negative consequences.

Smit et al. recognize that in addition to pre-drinking with a motive of fun/intoxication, likely to be linked with a higher amount of drinking over the course of an evening, other motives exist. These include “conviviality,” referring to drinking related to traditions and social practices—in order to meet new people, for example—and “facilitation” motives, which they define as including drinking to prepare for the rest of the evening. Conviviality and facilitation-motivated drinking were found to be endorsed less often than drinking for “fun/intoxication.”

Studying a sample of 204 young adult nightlife goers from Switzerland, Smit et al. found that fun/intoxication motives predicted the use of alcohol in subsequent drinking nights, but the two other pre-drinking motives did not. They also found that fun/intoxication pre-drinking motives were indirectly related to the number of adverse consequences due to higher use of alcohol. Smit et al. concluded that fun/intoxication pre-drinkers put themselves at higher risk for alcohol consumption and consequences but did not find the same results for those whose pre-drinking was motivated by a desire for conviviality or facilitation.

Is Pre-Drinking Risky? The Motive Could Make a Difference

As we might have imagined, when it comes to the risk of pre-drinking leading to negative consequences, it seems that motive matters. People who value socializing over spirits appear to be in a better position to enjoy an evening out without risking the negative consequences of overindulgence. However, many young people report having just as much if not more fun when sober, without running the risk of saying or doing the wrong thing, suffering lapses in judgment, or engaging in unattractive antics—often memorialized on cellphone footage maintained for posterity.

So consider the risks and benefits of pre-drinking, as well as the overall plan for the evening, before deciding to indulge. A great cup of coffee provides a good buzz, too, as does stimulating conversation.


[i] Smit, Koen, Emmanuel Kuntsche, Dan Anderson-Luxford, and Florian Labhart. 2021. “Fun/Intoxication Pre-Drinking Motives Lead Indirectly to More Alcohol-Related Consequences via Increased Alcohol Consumption on a given Night.” Addictive Behaviors 114 (March). doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2020.106749.