Researchers at Plymouth University said "pre-loading" - drinking alcohol before a night out - is increasing in revellers aged 18-23.
The differing price of alcohol in shops and licensed premises was also a major factor in the study, which set out to explain the growth of pre-loading.
Dr Adrian Barton, associate head of Plymouth University's School of Government, led the study, published in the current edition of the journal Drugs and Alcohol Today.
"In our minds, pre-loading is fast becoming a significant cultural shift in the consumption of alcohol in the UK," Dr Barton said.
"But policy-makers' understanding of the practice is limited, meaning that alcohol policies locally and nationally are failing to reflect its significance."
He said this was predominantly down to an over-reliance on the assumption it is linked to economics. Supporters of minimum pricing say that the move will help tackle the issue of pre-loading by making alcohol in supermarkets more expensive.
However, Scotland's flagship legislation to introduce a minimum price for alcohol faces a lengthy delay after a challenge against the plans was referred to a European court last month.
A previous study conducted by Dr Barton and Dr Kerryn Husk, from the University of Exeter Medical School, found 60%-70% of people drink some alcohol before going out.
Around 50% of these consume "significant quantities", the study found.
The research was carried out over a three-month period with people aged 18 to 23 being interviewed at length about their drinking habits.
Among the responses to questions about why young people pre-load were: "I get scared in clubs so drinking before I go out gives me the courage to face it."