Many people start off their nights out by drinking alcohol at home before leaving the house, but are unaware of how this jeopardises their health.
That is according to a new study from Addiction Switzerland, which estimated that up to three-quarters of young people at university-age indulge in this type of behaviour on a regular basis.
Usually, it is alcohol addiction that is seen as the biggest threat to people's health, but this research suggests that pre-drinking can not only increase the risk of becoming addicted, it can also make partiers more likely to over-indulge, have unprotected sex or take drugs.
Florian Labhart, a research at the firm, noted that pre-drinking is a pernicious drinking pattern.
"Excessive consumption and adverse consequences are not simply related to the type of people who pre-drink, but rather to the practice of pre-drinking itself," he added.
"Pre-drinking has been found in about one third of all on-premise drinking, which is a very high rate. Considering that pre-drinking leads people to consume nearly twice the normal amount of alcohol on a given night, its prevalence should not be underestimated from a public-health perspective.”
The study, which monitored the drinking habits of more than 250 students over a five-week period, found that they tended to drink more if they started pre-drinking at home than they would have if they had just gone straight to a club (seven instead of four, on average).
The reasons that participants cited for downing cheap alcoholic drinks while they were at home before going out included saving money, socialising, getting "in the mood" and "facilitating contacts with potential sexual partners".
One in ten respondents admitted to having unsafe sex after a night in which they had done some pre-drinking before going out.
The overall health risks were also much greater for those who pre-drank, who were found to be far more likely to suffer from bad hangovers, blackouts and alcohol poisoning.
Pre-drinking was also found to increase the risk of absences from work or school and encourage risky behaviour such as violence or drunken driving.
The results of the study are set to be published in the February 2013 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experiment research.
Shannon Kenney, another research involved in the study, noted that the phenomenon, which is also known as "pre-partying, pre-gamin, pre-loading or pre-funking", has only really been "identified and introduced into the empirical alcohol literature" quite recently.
"Although pre-drinking has not received the attention it deserves thus far, it appears that researchers are beginning to recognize the importance of gaining a better understanding of this risky and prevalent drinking context," she noted.
Although the study was carried out in Switzerland, researchers noted that it is a particularly prevalent practice in the UK and the US, especially the latter where the legal drinking age is much higher at 21.
The question becomes, what can be done to mitigate the risks of this drinking pattern? It is important that young people acknowledge the fact that changing location can lead to greater alcohol consumption, and that they keep track of the number of drinks they have had. Avoidance of 'chugging' or drinking games, mindfulness of their own bodily reactions could also help.