Underage Drinking & the Law

What parents need to know now about the new Social Host Laws

Where do kids get their alcohol?

NOT from their parents. Surprised?

I was.  Only 5.9% of “current alcohol users” ages 12 to 20 got their liquor directly from a parent or guardian, and 8.5% got it from another relative aged 21 or older, according to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health from SAMHSA (The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), a U.S. governmental program.

These statistics are from the 2008 study reported in November of 2010 — guess they’re a bit slow — and SAMHSA hasn’t reported the breakdowns for 2009, yet. However, we can comfortably assume the numbers haven’t changed greatly since the total percentage hasn’t changed from 2008 to 2009: 14.4% of “current alcohol users” aged 12 to 20 got alcohol from parents, guardians or other relatives aged 21 or older .

Lock up your liquor

The Social Host Laws originally targeted parents who hosted parties with alcohol for minors, knowingly. Now, most versions of the law have taken a controversial step to broaden the definition of host to include adults who were clueless, i.e., out of the residence or asleep when the drinking occurred; or blameless, i.e., prohibited any underage alcohol use and were known to do so.

Why did the laws change to include people we wouldn’t normally consider criminals? Because, most underage drinkers “reported that their last use of alcohol in the past month occurred either in someone else’s home (55.9%) or their own home (29.2%)”. Included in those numbers were 6.8% of  underage drinkers who “took the alcohol from home” or “took it from someone else’s home”.

Shall I wrap that or will you drink it here?

Even though law enforcement and legislators have done an excellent job of preventing liquor stores, bars and restaurants from selling alcohol to minors, they haven’t done as well as we’ve hoped. According to the 2009 survey, “nearly one-third of current alcohol users aged 12 to 20 (30.3%) paid for the last alcohol they used”.  That is a clear violation of Alcohol Beverage Control laws in all 50 states but not a Social Host Ordinance issue.

Explain it to me again, slowly

The desperate need for Social Host Legislation eludes me. Looking again at the latest statistics from SAMHSA, I see that almost three-quarters of minors (72.8%) have NOT consumed alcohol in the past month. Of the minority who have, 30% were sold the liquor, which has always been a criminal act no matter how a “minor” is defined. You don’t need Social Host Laws to arrest the sellers. SHL doesn’t cover when a minor steals alcohol from a home. And in most states, it doesn’t cover religious ceremonies* or parents or guardians providing a small amount to their children.

In order to quantify the need for Social Host legislation, we must start slicing the demographics even thinner.  You can follow along or skip to the chart below.  Among underage drinkers (27.2%) who drank free alcohol in the last time they drank (69.7% of the 27.2%), over a third (37.1% of the sum of the previous equation) received it from an unrelated person aged 21 or older who would be liable under any version of the Social Host Law, even if he’s a friend, cousin or frat brother of the minor.

0.272 x 0.697 x 0.371 = 0.0703 or 7% or approximately 1 out of 14

1 out of every 14 people ages 12 to 20 get alcohol from a Social Host

* I wish they would ask if the consumption was for religious purposes so we can remove that sector from the statistics.

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