Pregame culture on college campuses can fuel alcohol and drug use

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Pregame culture on college campuses can fuel alcohol and drug use
Pregame culture on college campuses can fuel alcohol and drug use

New research from the Texas A&M University School of Public Health suggests that college students who “pre-game,” or participate in queuing and similar activities before sporting events, are also more likely to engage in hazardous alcohol and other substance use.

Alcohol use has long been associated with American college students and college sports culture. Foreplay often involves exposure to alcohol and increases participation in high-risk drinking. This, in turn, may lead participants to engage in other risky behaviors with harmful consequences. The researchers who conducted this new study, which was published in Substance use and abuse, say their findings can help universities generate risk management policies and provide a targeted, event-specific prevention and intervention program to help reduce these consequences.

The study examined possible relationships between pregame behavior and how often students drank alcohol, and whether students who played before a game were more likely to engage in multiple substance use (taking more than one substance over a period of time). Researchers Benjamin Montemayor, Ph.D., and Adam Barry, Ph.D., of the Division of Health Behavior at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, used data from a survey of students at a large university who violated the university’s alcohol policy between September 2019 and July 2021.

The online survey asked 816 students whether they had participated in games before a live sporting event in the previous year and collected data on their substance use in addition to important demographic information such as gender, race and ethnicity, school rankings, and Greek organization affiliation. The researchers asked respondents whether and how often they pregamed or drank before a live college sporting event they attended in person, and asked participants to self-report their drinking frequency (number of days) in the past month. The survey also measured how often they had used cannabis or other drugs during the same period and the percentage of their peers who participants believed had also used alcohol recently (descriptive norms).

Pregaming and heavy drinking can lead to harmful physical, social, and academic outcomes. Although universities have sought to reduce student drinking for decades, the percentage of students who drink at high risk in any given month remains unchanged at about 30 to 40 percent. Additionally, cannabis use among college students in the United States is at historic highs, and about 25 percent of college students who use alcohol report that they also use cannabis or other drugs while drinking.

The researchers found that prior gaming was associated with alcohol use by students who violated their university’s alcohol policy, accounting for important demographic factors. While this in itself is not surprising, the analysis also found a two-day increase in the frequency of alcohol use for each individual pregame event. Montemayor and Barry also found that students who had gambled beforehand were about 2.5 times more likely to use cannabis or other drugs with alcohol. These findings reinforce previous research on substance use.

Although the findings paint a compelling picture of prior gambling and co-use of alcohol and drugs, the researchers note several limitations of this study. First, the study sample is not representative of the general student population in racial and ethnic composition. In addition, all participants had violated their university’s alcohol policy, and research shows that these students tend to use alcohol and drugs more often and in larger amounts, and are more likely to engage in other risky behaviors. Also, the study spanned a relatively short period of time, so researchers can’t determine whether pregame makes hazardous alcohol use more likely. Future work that examines subjects over a longer period would be beneficial.

Despite the noted limitations, the findings of this study suggest an association between pregaming use and hazardous alcohol use and other risky behaviors, including drug use and substance use. Future research into programs and policies limiting pre-gaming and reducing harm related to gambling would be critical, the researchers say. They said such efforts could take the form of game-day texting-based interventions and the implementation and consistent enforcement of policies to mitigate excessive alcohol use and related harms. These include restricting alcohol consumption to designated areas, limiting the time allowed for tailgating, implementing hydration stations, actively patrolling tailgating areas, displaying the rules in tailgating areas, and limiting access for visibly intoxicated persons.

Pregame gaming is a part of life on many college campuses, but it’s associated with a greater risk of alcohol-related harm, Montemayor says.

Across the country, students come to major campuses in the fall and immerse themselves in their college’s athletic culture. Some gaming cultures can lead to a perceived view of alcohol use on campus that normalizes the behavior. This sends mixed messages to students on campus about alcohol policies and further complicates the university’s goal of protecting the health and well-being of its students.

Dr. A.S. Benjamin Montemayor, Department of Health Behavior, Texas A&M School of Public Health

An improved understanding of the relationship between pregaming and high-risk drinking can help develop interventions, regulations, and policies that could reduce these risks and improve student safety.


Journal reference:

Montemayor, BN, et al. (2023) The alcohol and polysubstance behavior of compulsory college students prior to college sporting events: A pregame assessment. Substance use and abuse.

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