Mental health associated with negative ‘pre-gaming’ outcomes in college students

A new study found that college students with social anxiety and depression were more driven by social motives to “pre-game,” or drink, before heading to a social event, and experienced more negative consequences as a result of the practice. The findings highlight the need for interventions targeting mental health issues as a way to address problem alcohol use.

Pre-gaming – also known as pre-party, pre-loading or pre-loading – refers to drinking alcohol before going to a social event such as a party or a night out, often where further drinking takes place. It’s a popular pastime among college students, with recent research showing that over 50% have taken part in pre-gaming in the past 30 days.

Pregame practice has been consistently associated with negative alcohol-related consequences, such as academic and interpersonal problems and increased risk of injury, physical and sexual assault, intoxication, and blackout. A new study examines how pregame motives, social anxiety and depression, and negative consequences relate to the last 30 days before a game in college students.

Researchers recruited 485 full-time college students ages 18 to 24 who attended a large private university in the U.S. and reported playing pre-gaming at least once a week in the past month. The sample was predominantly white (47.8%), female (67.2%), and cisgender.

Using the Personal Motivations Inventory (PMI), researchers assessed four subtypes of pregame motivations: interpersonal enhancement (eg, “Meeting new friends”), intimate pursuit (eg, “To increase the chances of hooking up”), situational control (eg, “ So I have control over what I consume”) and barriers to consumption (e.g. “Because I’m underage and can’t buy alcohol at the destination”). They also measured symptoms of social anxiety and depression and used the Brief Consequences in Young Adults Questionnaire (B-YAACQ) to assess consequences experienced in the days leading up to the game.

Based on participants’ responses, they were grouped into one of four profiles: 59.5% were categorized as having mild/moderate symptoms of social anxiety and depression and moderate pregame motivation, 12.7% were categorized as having minimal symptoms of social anxiety and depression and low pregame motivation, 15.6% had subclinical/elevated symptoms of social anxiety and depression and strong pregame motives, and 12.1% had clinically elevated social anxiety and depressive symptoms with moderate motives .

The subclinical/elevated social anxiety and depression symptom profile reported the highest frequency of previous gambling and the highest number of drinking-related consequences in the past month. They reported an average of three and a half alcohol-induced blackouts in the past month, which was significantly higher than any other group and almost double the profile of mild/moderate social anxiety and depressive symptoms. This group also reported more motivations for pregame than any other group, especially for improving interpersonal relationships and intimate activities.

In comparison, the group rated as having minimal symptoms of social anxiety and depression had significantly lower estimated blood alcohol levels (BALs) and reported the fewest alcohol-related consequences of all groups. However, this group still reached a relative BAL above 0.08%.

Study findings suggest that social anxiety co-occurring with depression is an important consideration for targeting pre-play interventions.

“Our results have important clinical implications,” the researchers said. “Symptoms of social anxiety and depression are notable risk factors for pregaming consumption and consequences. Interventions that have traditionally focused on social motivations for drinking, such as social norms and interventions, may better target individuals with these symptoms by including more discussion around helping students get what they want from previous play without need to rely on it to manage their symptoms.”

The study was published in the journal Alcohol: Clinical and Experimental Studies.

Source: Society for the Study of Alcohol via Newswise

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