Mental health linked to negative ‘pregaming’ outcomes in college students
A new study has found that college students with social anxiety and depression were more driven by social motives to ‘pregame’ or drink before heading out to a social function and experienced more negative consequences as a result of the practice. The findings highlight the need for interventions that target mental health issues as a way of addressing problematic alcohol consumption.
Pregaming – otherwise known as prepartying, frontloading or preloading – means drinking alcohol before going to a social event such as a party or a night out, often where further drinking occurs. It’s a popular pastime among college students, with recent research suggesting that over 50% had engaged in pregaming in the past 30 days.
The practice of pregaming has consistently been associated with negative alcohol-related consequences like academic and interpersonal problems and an elevated risk of injury, physical and sexual assault, DUIs, and blackouts. A new study has examined how pregaming motives, social anxiety and depression, and negative consequences are associated with past 30-day pregaming in college students.
The researchers recruited 485 full-time undergraduate students aged 18 to 24 who attended a single, large, private US university and who had reported pregaming at least once per week in the past month. The sample was predominantly white (47.8%), female (67.2%) and cisgender.
Using the Prepartying Motivations Inventory (PMI), the researchers assessed four motive subtypes for pregaming: interpersonal enhancement (e.g., “The meet new friends”), intimate pursuit (e.g., “To increase the chances of hooking up”), situational control (e.g., “So I have control over what I consume”), and barriers to consumption (e.g., “Because I am underage and can’t purchase alcohol at the destination venue”). They also measured social anxiety and depression symptoms and used the Brief Young Adult Consequence Questionnaire (B-YAACQ) to assess consequences experienced on pregaming days.
Based on the participants’ responses, they were grouped into one of four profiles: 59.5% were categorized as having mild/moderate social anxiety and depression symptoms and moderate motivation to pregame, 12.7% were categorized as having minimal social anxiety and depression symptoms and low pregaming motivations, 15.6% had subclinical/elevated social anxiety and depression symptoms and high pregaming motives, and 12.1% had clinically elevated social anxiety and depression symptoms with moderate motives.
The subclinical/elevated social anxiety and depression symptoms profile reported the highest frequency of pregaming and the highest number of past-month drinking-related consequences. They reported, on average, three-and-a-half alcohol-induced blackouts in the past month, which was significantly higher than any other group and almost double that of the mild/moderate social anxiety and depression symptoms profile. This group also reported more motivations for pregaming than any other group, particularly for interpersonal enhancement and intimate pursuits.
By comparison, the group assessed to have minimal social anxiety and depression symptoms had significantly lower calculated blood alcohol levels (BAL) and reported the fewest alcohol-related consequences of all the groups. However, this group still reached concerning BALs above 0.08%.
The study’s findings suggest that social anxiety co-occurring with depression is an important consideration for targeting pregaming interventions.
“Our results have important clinical implications,” said the researchers. “Social anxiety and depression symptoms are notable risk factors for pregaming consumption and consequences. Interventions that have traditionally focused on the social motives of drinking, such as social norms and interventions, can better target individuals with these symptoms by incorporating more discussion around helping students get what they want out of pregaming without needing to rely on it to cope with their symptoms.”
The study was published in the journal Alcohol: Clinical & Experimental Research.