OBJECTIVE: Pre-drinking entails consuming alcohol before attending licensed venues. We examined the relationship between pre-drinking, intention to get drunk and high-risk drinking among Victorians aged 18-24 years, to consider whether reducing pre-drinking might ameliorate alcohol-related harm. METHODS: Variables within the 2009 Victorian Youth Alcohol and Drugs Survey (VYADS) dataset were analysed and compared with a thematic interpretation of research interviews involving 60 young adults living in Melbourne. High-risk drinking was defined as consuming 11 or more standard drinks in a session at least monthly. RESULTS: VYADS data show that pre-drinking was a significant predictor of high-risk drinking, even after intention to get drunk was controlled for. The most common explanation provided by interviewees for pre-drinking was because it is cheaper to purchase alcohol at bottle shops than at bars and clubs. This was particularly emphasised by those who drank at a high-risk level. CONCLUSIONS: The study suggests that people pre-drink because they desire to be intoxicated, but also that pre-drinking patterns and product choices exacerbate the likelihood of high-risk drinking. Reducing availability of cheap packaged alcohol has potential to limit both pre-drinking and high-risk drinking among Victorian young adults. IMPLICATIONS: The study adds weight to calls to implement minimum alcohol pricing in Australia.