The Social Functions of College Drinking: Pregaming, Priming, and Protecting the Liminoid Experience

Celine Schreiber


The Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study has concluded that, on average, one in three college students abuses alcohol regularly. However, while highlighting potential risks, academic literature largely neglects the social functions students derive from consuming alcohol. College represents an important milestone in an individual’s life and is characterized by what Turner (1969) called liminoid experiences, which involve a temporary suspension of social status, at bars, clubs, concerts, festivals, and college parties, often closely connected to alcohol consumption. This paper explores how women students’ practice of “pregaming,” that is, drinking alcohol in smaller groups before attending a social event such as a party, enables individuals to achieve the liminoid state while also providing opportunities to resist potential negative consequences of intoxication. College women use pregaming to build a support network with close friends, enabling them to ensure their physical safety. Beyond the integrity of their bodies, women also ensure that their actions during the liminoid experience of a college party are consistent with ideas they have of their personal identity. Although they temporarily suspend their social and personal identities during college parties, women prevent unwanted permanent changes of their sense of self by holding each other accountable to rules they establish during the pregame.


liminoid; alcohol consumption; college students; women

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