Pre-drinking, the act of drinking at home before going out, is an issue of global concern due to its links with greater overall drinking across the night, and increased risk of assaults, injuries, and arrest. Generally people pre-drink due to the high cost of drinks in licensed premises, to socialize with friends, reduce social anxiety before going out, or to get drunk quickly.
Most of the pre-drinking research that exists has been undertaken in the United States but the practice has also been widely reported in literature from several European countries, as well as Brazil, Canada, and New Zealand. Whilst it is positive to acknowledge pre-drinking is recognized as a global concern given the international research output, inconsistencies between these studies prevent a clear understanding of international trends, including the influence of the each country’s culture on patterns of alcohol use.
Inconsistencies between international studies can include the definition of pre-drinking; in the United States, pre-drinking generally refers to the act of drinking before attending an event, such as a sports match, while in the UK and Australia pre-drinking refers to drinking at someone’s home before attending bars and nightclubs. There are also study methodology variations; US-based research generally utilizes samples of college students describing retrospective alcohol use, while research from other countries typically use street- or bar entrance-intercept surveys with nightlife goers.
These inconsistencies between studies results in uncertainty for policy-makers aiming to implement evidence-based strategies targeting risky pre-drinking behaviors among specific groups of the population.
Indeed, pre-drinking behaviors are largely country specific. One analysis of pre-drinking of respondents across 27 countries to determine the role of age and sex on pre-drinking showed a big disparity on a country level in those who engage with pre-drinking. Respondents from Greece, for instance, had a low uptake of pre-drinking, in comparison to respondents from Ireland, who had the highest uptake of pre-drinking. This may be in part due to socio-cultural differences in drinking patterns. For example, in Mediterranean countries like Greece and Italy, many people have a drink with dinner most nights, whereas in countries like Ireland and Australia, many people drink little during the week, but then binge drink on the weekends.
It is not just young people who are pre-drinking. While pre-drinking increases between age 16 and 21 years, as might be expected, surprisingly pre-drinking also increases again after the age of 30 for respondents for both men and women genders, generally from Brazil, Canada, and England amongst others. This could be due to people over 30 years who may be meeting at home for a few drinks to socialise with friends before going out to dinner or a bar.
Pre-drinking practices therefore are not limited to university-age consumers of alcohol, as might be expected.
The gender split between those who pre-drink and those who don’t is less defined than expected. More males engage in pre-drinking than females except for respondents from Canada and Denmark. Perhaps we need more research to understand the changing trends of alcohol consumption among females as well as robust measures of motives to pre-drink.
While there is some consensus around the motives of pre-drinking, such as economics, culture, (including drinking culture), socializing, what is clear is that pre-drinking typically contributes to overall drinking consumption on a night out. The consequence of the total drinking amount on a night out increasing, means the risks for assaults, injuries, and arrests also increase.
What is needed are greater policy measures that target pre-drinking. A recent evaluation of Government Policy measures to reduce alcohol fueled violence in Queensland, Australia suggest a number of recommendations that speak to a better understanding of pre-drinking. Some examples of these include “introduce a minimum unit price on alcohol”, “trial the introduction of government support scheme for original live music played before 22:00”, and the “ongoing independent evaluation and monitoring of alcohol-related harms”.
Nevertheless, given the country-specific variations and the disparities across age and sex in pre-drinking behaviors, more research from other countries is required to better understand the inter-play between alcohol policies designed to reduce alcohol-related harms and pre-drinking.