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It's 11 p.m. at your favorite bar on a Saturday night. Music's blasting, some people are shouting in slurred voices and you're waiting in a packed line to order your first drink. Now imagine doing this stone sober.
For many people, showing up to a crowded bar without a buzz doesn't have much appeal. But a Swiss study that will be published in February found that drinkers aged 18-26 who pregame consumed twice as much alcohol over the course of a night than those who only drank at a bar, and that pregame drinkers were more likely to suffer blackouts and engage in unplanned drug use and risky sex.
That's probably familiar news to anyone who's woken up next to a stranger after a long New Year's Eve, though the Swiss study is notable because it's one of the first large-scale projects to measure actual data on pregaming.
And it raises the question: What's the socially acceptable age limit on pregaming? Sure, it's common on college campuses, but do people change their pregaming behavior as they mature?
For Danny Weiss, 26, of Logan Square, the motivation to have a few drinks before heading to a bar is purely financial.
"Most people try to get a buzz going before you go anywhere because you save a lot of money that way," Weiss said. "If you're drinking at somebody's apartment, it's going to be far cheaper, but you go to a bar to be social and drink with other people."
Weiss paints a casual scene of a group of friends listening to music and drinking whatever beer or handle of liquor the host has provided--a pretty tame affair compared to the "power hours" and keg stands that some remember from college.
Weiss said he has never had a terrible experience that he would blame on pregaming. "Everyone has nights when they just overdo it a little bit. It's normally not a product of one thing."
His views echo what Shannon Kenney, associate director of Loyola Marymount University's Heads Up Alcohol Research Lab and a contributor to a brief about the Swiss study, has found among post-college drinkers. She said heavy pregaming tends to be most common among underage drinkers, though she notes that it's not limited to college years.
"Those who are underage are a particularly high-risk subgroup. They're motivated to predrink because they want to get a buzz before they go to a licensed premise, because they know they can't get alcohol or it might be difficult to get it where they're going," Kenney said. "Also the younger the drinkers are, they tend to have stronger sexually-based motivations. They want to loosen up and make it easier to talk to members of the opposite or same sex."
As people transition out of college, take on more responsibilities and enter longer-term relationships, Kenney said, their drinking tends to get less risky.
That means fewer games of flip cup and more wine-and-cheeses cocktail hours. Or, in Rebecca Skoch's case, not really pregaming much at all.
"If I'm having people over and we're staying at my house, I might make fancy
cocktails, but if we're going out or going to a restaurant, I don't drink before I leave because I want to meet a friend first at The Violet Hour or get the wine pairings with the meal," said Skoch, 28, who lives in Bucktown.
"Usually, if I'm planning on going out, I'm more excited about the cocktails I might have at dinner than having anything before then," she said. "For me and my friends, it's more about the Chicago food scene, checking out the new restaurants and bars and having a drink. It's not about getting drunk at all anymore."
Though she fully admits to drinking Carlo Rossi wine from a Nalgene bottle in college, Skoch thinks her more mature attitude is typical of her friends in their late 20s, who, she says, care more about how a cocktail tastes than how fast they can drink it.
Because binge drinking, which often accompanies pregaming, has been shown to increase one's likelihood for accidents, injury and unprotected sex, Skoch also saves herself a lot of headaches by confining her drinking to the bar or restaurant.
"Even if I get a little tipsy, a lot of people drunk dial, but I'll probably ask a chef if I can [volunteer at his restaurant]. That's what happens when I have too much to drink."
A 2012 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the Midwest leads the nation in binge drinking, defined as consuming more than four or five drinks in one sitting. Young people and those who make less than $25,000 per year drink the most often and have the most drinks per binge. A look at how the Midwest stacks up against the nation:
State with the lowest percentage of binge drinkers: Utah (10.9%)
State with the highest percentage of binge drinkers: Wisconsin (25.6%)
Percentage of binge drinkers in Illinois: Between 18.7% and 25.6%
Average lowest number of drinks consumed per binge: 6 (Washington, D.C.)
Average highest number of drinks consumed per binge: 9 (Wisconsin)
Average number of drinks per binge in Illinois: Between 6 and 7
Per-person cost of drinking too much in 2006, the latest figure available. Costs include health care, lost productivity and crime: $746
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