It’s called the pre-party. It’s a common practice on most college campuses and consists of heavy, rapid drinking before heading out to the main party or social event of the night. It has been reported that as much as 45% of the drinking that takes place in a single night happens at pre-parties.
According to research done by the U.S. Department of Education, students are very strategic in their approach to the pre-party. It serves several purposes. College students use pre-parties as a way of getting buzzed while in a safe environment, cutting costs, and skirting around the issue of law enforcement, bouncers and a need for a valid I.D. Many students also cite bonding with friends as a reason to pre-party.
Both men and women seek a “buzz” before going out so they can save money when going to the bars or enjoy an event where they would not easily be able to obtain alcohol. Women say a desire to drink in a safe environment as a key reason to pre-party in a small group. Women are more likely to view their pre-party activities as an exercise in pacing — drink more now, when it’s safe and it’s cheap, and less later.
Often, students plan to stop drinking or dramatically cut back after the pre-party. They may have the best of intentions, but most tend to get drunk and continue drinking because their judgment becomes cloudy. Despite their intentions, pre-partying can often lead to more drinking, not less. Heavy drinking can help fuel blacking out, alcohol poisoning, driving drunk, taking sexual risks, and/or being sexually victimized and getting injured. It’s a strategic decision to get to a high blood alcohol content (BAC) quickly. But once they go out, students are not making good decisions.
One popular game played during the pre-party is called the Power Hour. This is a type of drinking game where every player drinks one shot of alcohol every minute for 60 minutes. Each shot contains 1.5 fluid ounces for a total of 90 fluid ounces during the power hour. For purposes of blood alcohol content, this is equivalent to 7.5 drinks. All players that successfully complete the total number shots without retiring are winners. The game is simple and appears somewhat easy, but players often have difficulty completing it. The rate of alcohol consumption necessary to win this game can raise blood alcohol content to a level where death is possible, depending on weight and other factors.
There are a few differences in the pre-party atmosphere for men and women. In the drinking reported by men, 45% involved pre-parties. For women, 55% pre-partied. Both men and women reported heavy drinking during 68% of events they attended. 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. Men are more likely to drink beer, strive for high levels of consumption, try to match their peers drink for drink, depend on intoxication as a necessary condition for making friends.
Problems often occur with pre-partying. Three-quarters of college drinkers say they “pre-party.” Of all drinking events involving pre-partying, 80% involved additional drinking afterward. Hangovers, fights and sexual assaults are more likely to occur on nights when students pre-party. Nearly 600,000 injuries and 700,000 assaults result from excessive drinking each year according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
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. Colleges and Universities are beginning to address pre-partying in prevention and intervention tactics on campuses. It is recommended that policies focus on promoting responsible drinking and harm-reduction strategies, rather than trying to prohibit drinking. Prohibiting pre-parties tends to drive them underground, not stop them. The more drinking gets pushed behind closed doors, the harder it is to ensure the safety of students.
The trend of pre-partying is not new, but it is pervasive. There appears to be a new level of intensity. Some argue that the intensity has not increased, but that pre-partying has become more visible. Students often display their alcohol and drug use on websites like MySpace and Facebook. Maybe this new visibility is responsible for the sudden awareness of pre-partying.
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