Underage Drinking & the Law

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


Law enforcement has a secret weapon in the War on Underage Drinking: 

Arrest the Parents

Once upon a time, crimes required passion, desperation or recklessness. Not any more. Now, your “crime” could be going out for dinner with your spouse and coming home a half hour earlier than your teen expected…or permitting your child to have three friends sleep over…or agreeing to help celebrate the varsity team’s big win.

Once, being called a Social Host was a compliment on your party planning skills…but this party is happening without your approval.

Today, being called a Social Host means you’ve been charged with an unintended crime of allowing teens to drink in your home. Not buying alcohol for teens or serving alcohol to teens; just not doing enough to prevent them from drinking in your home.

Let’s be absolutely clear: if you believe it’s okay to serve alcohol to other people’s children, this is not the site for you.

However, if your parenting style sits in the muddy middle between the Just-Say-No Prohibitionists and the Always-Say-Yes Permissivists, welcome to SocialHostLaw.com. This website serves to help caring, involved parents navigate the tricky issues of underage drinking and the law. Our goal is to answer the question:

How can we protect our families and ourselves if good parents are criminalized when teens disobey their rules?

SocialHostLaw.com is the source for parents and families for:

  • Up-to-the-minute news on the laws that affect you
  • The latest research on underage drinking
  • Resources to share with your friends and family
  • Community and Connection
  • And more

For quick information on Social Hosting, how to find the ordinance in your area and understanding the law, visit our FAQs and Social Host Law Primer pages

57 comments on “Welcome

  1. mkane1997@yahoo.com
    October 1, 2012

    repeal the 21 to 18 like it used to be — USVI and PR are 18 – and our neighbor to the north is 18 and 19-depends on location

  2. joseph saint
    May 20, 2012

    I had a party and my uncle and I got a ticket for social host or allowing underage drinking and I don’t know what going to happen or what to do as far as court

    • SocialHostLaw.com
      May 20, 2012

      Joseph, your uncle and you need to find an attorney with a success rate battling Social Host Ordinances, as soon as possible. Often, attorneys who specialize in DUI offenses will handle Social Host issues. Ask the attorney to educate you both fully about the law in your area. Also, use the Contact & Feedback tab above if you wish to contact us with specific questions, need help finding an attorney or understanding the law. Your email is private there. However, since I’m not an attorney, there is no lawyer-client privilege and my communications can be subpoenaed. And, please, don’t throw any more parties with alcohol. In most communities, the fines increase dramatically with each citation.

  3. Randy
    April 21, 2012

    If a school V.P. and Superintendent are informed that an underage drinking party occurred, are they obligated to call the authorities in NYS?

    • SocialHostLaw.com
      April 24, 2012

      Randy, this is less a Social Host Law question and more a New York State School Boards Association question. There is a code of conduct for school board members. Here’s the link. http://goo.gl/vJDBu I suggest checking there first. Also, there may be other violations or charges that would be more serious initially. Turning to a good criminal defense attorney in your area for advice is also recommended.

  4. Joe Tucci
    March 5, 2012

    This is a great site for parents! When I was a teen I would not dare have a party at my parents house. I would attend other peoples parties and would witness Fights inside the house, people steeling personal property inside the home, and of course people so drunk who would also drive home. I think that there should be more awareness .
    Thank You for sharing

    Joe Tucci

    • SocialHostLaw.com
      March 7, 2012

      Thanks Joe! I agree there should be more awareness. Please share this site with your friends.

  5. Michael Monks
    March 5, 2012

    Finally some common sense!!!!!! These types of laws are beyond ridiculous. Fight the good fight Helene.

    • SocialHostLaw.com
      March 5, 2012

      Thanks, Michael. Most of the Social Host laws overreach and it’s getting worse. However, we need to support the few that do what they intend to do: catch clever criminals who purposely enable teens to break the laws on drinking.

  6. nilandmortimer
    March 5, 2012

    Thanks Helene for initiating this important discussion. Although this never happened with our boys, I’m glad they’re over 21! I frequently hear anguished stories from parents of teenagers with drug and alcohol problems, and the human misery for all involved. Parents are often put in very difficult situations, not just with underage parties in their homes, but with how to deal with addicted children. Children learn what they see and we have all seen countless parents’ parties where too much alcohol is consumed.

    • SocialHostLaw.com
      March 5, 2012

      I agree wholeheartedly. Our role as parents is to model the best behavior we can – meaning moderation – in all things, especially potentially addictive substances, like alcohol. My weakness is chocolate. Thankfully, my son has survived childhood without abusing any substance, including sweets.

  7. Ajax the Great
    January 4, 2012

    The passage of social host laws, however draconian, is simply the logical conclusion of setting the legal drinking age at 21. Because the drinking age law was a failure due to its unenforceability, the same nanny-staters who sold us that bill of goods needed all of these ancillary laws to prop it up. Which does not really make it any less of a failure–it just makes our country even less free. There is ZERO hard evidence that these host laws save any lives at all, and Miron and Tetelbaum thoroughly debunk the claim that the 21 drinking age saved any lives in the long run. It is no coincidence that the USA is one of very few nations in the entire world with a drinking age that high, AND to my knowledge is the only country with criminal social host laws, and one of only two countries (along with Canada, with a drinking age of 18 or 19) in which civil social host laws exist. And Canada’s laws have been significantly watered down by a 2006 landmark court case, Childs v. Desormeaux.

    Let America be America again, and lower the drinking age to 18. If you’re old enough to go to war, you’re old enough to go to the bar. ‘Nuff said.

    • H. M. Epstein
      January 4, 2012

      I’m very interested in learning more about your statistics. Would you mind sharing your links to the data with the rest of us? Thanks.

  8. Joanne F
    April 25, 2011

    Thank you for bringing intelligent debate to this ever important issue. Our teenage kids have to be made aware that their choices can have a serious impact, not only on them, but their parents as well. This is a discussion well worth having around the dinner table. Growing up in Canada where the drinking age was 18, my experience was quite different. Less stress for sure. There was no need to sneak a few beers around town.. and quite frankly, because alcohol was readily available to those over 18.. it was no big deal. I didn’t see too much binge drinking or crazy acting out when the parents weren’t around. Yet, today’s world brings about a different reality and a different set of consequences. As parents, we keep stressing the BENEFITS of responsible behavior. Hmm..only time will tell…
    Thanks for illuminating this issue.

  9. Kathy Shapiro
    April 5, 2011

    Helene< Thank you for this vital information. Just to add a bit of levity to your blog I want to share a story. My 19 year old had a party that some friends attended and the kids were swimming. I told all of them if I found ANY alcohol at my home, I would pur it out and ask them to leave. At one point in the afternoon, I found a small bottle of Vodka that a guest had hidden (since we don't drink any liquor in our home I knew it was contriband). I secretly poured it out and refilled it with the pool water the kids had been swimming in. It was very delightful to hear the kids say that their Vodka tasted like water…giggle!

  10. Mike Parks
    April 1, 2011

    This is just another example of how our law makers are obsessed with trying to legislate in place of common sense. Instead of allowing responsible parents to educate their children in their own way, they obtain blanket powers in order to control irresponsible parents. To me this is simple – if the intent is to stop irresponsible parents from allowing their kids to drink, prosecute the offenders for child-endagerment – and accept the burden of proof.

  11. Connie
    April 1, 2011

    Thanks Helene ! Excellent and clear, concise information.
    Communication is KEY !

  12. Karen Renzer
    April 1, 2011

    We are very proud of you !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. Ilene A
    April 1, 2011

    Good job. I applaud your efforts and agree completely. I wish you the best of luck.

    • H. M. Epstein
      April 1, 2011

      Thank you!

  14. David Levine
    March 28, 2011

    Thank you for starting this discussion.

  15. Donna
    March 26, 2011

    When law officials have the ability to interpret the law and the law is not dependent on proving the host has committed a crime, we as parents should be scared, very scared. I’ve heard of parents being arrested and their lives ruined for circumstances that were beyond their control. I thought that law enforcement agents are suppose to help people, not harm them. I’m afraid that parents will not seek help when help is needed due to the horror stories that they have heard. We need this blog and we experts to speak about this law at parent association meetings

    • H. M. Epstein
      April 13, 2011

      Donna, I’ve been thinking about your comment about parents not seeking help when they need it most because of fear of legal consequences. Let’s assume that the adults did not plan on providing beer or permitting minors to bring their own. That is considered out and out criminal behavior in any jurisdiction. Many parents have decided for their children’s protection, and their own, to forbid all parties in their home. I find that incredibly sad and unhealthy.

      Given the common scenario of a couple coming home to find their 17-year-old has twenty friends over and they’ve been partying, what should they do? The old joke was turn around and go back out, but of course that would be morally indefensible even if it was legally advisable before the advent of the Social Host Laws that don’t require your presence for liability.

      A New York criminal defense attorney once told me that if you discover minors drinking in your home, the first call should be to your attorney and the second to the police; but few of us have a criminal defense attorney on speed dial. Some district attorneys are pushing for a Good Samaritan law relevant to underage drinking but those are designed for other minors. They want kids to think about their inebriated or injured friend’s well-being before they worry about losing the starting position on the team or college acceptances. Law enforcement will tell you to make several calls; the first to them and the rest to the kids’ parents but there’s no promise they won’t prosecute if they discover the liquor came from your cabinet. It’s worse if you’re home when the party starts because then it doesn’t matter where the booze came from; you’re liable.

      How many of us are good in a crisis? Depending on where you live and how many unwanted guests you find, the triage steps will differ but the first goal is to get control of the situation and prevent further harm to the kids. Remove any and all liquor, shut off the stereo, pull spark plugs from cars instead of trying to get keys (kids often bring two sets), call 911 if anyone seems unresponsive, call parents if you know the kids, call family and friends to help you navigate the rest of the crowd. You need at least one knowledgeable adult to assess and handle two minors. Do not just kick the kids out or send them home unescorted. Ever.

      If your SHL requires you to call the police, if the situation is too chaotic or you’re not able to gain control, then I would call the police first and ask for help. When you call 911 it’s recorded, so for your legal protection make sure you state clearly on the phone the true circumstances, i.e., that you just discovered the situation and you are horrified the kids broke your house rules. If your child is over 17, then put your child on the phone as well to tell dispatch what happened, i.e., that he invited three friends to watch a movie but once people discovered the parents were out … Unfortunately, depending on the wording of your SHL, all of you may still get cited or arrested even if you’re truly innocent.

      Aargh! Maybe we all need a good criminal defense attorney on speed dial. Any lawyers out there want to comment?

  16. Erin
    March 25, 2011

    It’s pretty shocking how severe the effects of these laws can be on parents – but there also doesn’t seem to be an easy answer in terms of curbing underage drinking among kids. This blog does a great job of breaking down all the info!

    • H. M. Epstein
      March 26, 2011

      Thanks Erin. I agree there are no easy answers. It often seems that progress is slow using the tools already available but it’s been steady and significant. Compliance is a big part of it. Dialogue and education are as well. No one has all the answers but we need to keep asking the right questions!

  17. Liz S
    March 25, 2011

    Slightly off topic but relevant…. I still don’t understand how they can send my son to war at 18 but not allow him to have a beer. Especially if it is under controlled circumstances with parental supervision. We are asked to teach our children to drive but not allowed to teach them to drink until after they have completed college….?

    • Deb
      March 25, 2011

      I agree. Eighteen year olds can drive, vote, serve in the military, and are considered adults in all financial and legal matters. If I’m not mistaken, a few years ago, a group of college presidents called for the legal drinking age to be lowered in an attempt to limit dangerous binge drinking on campuses.

      • H. M. Epstein
        March 25, 2011

        That’s true. In July 2008, 136 college presidents concerned with alarming binge drinking and alcohol poisoning rates among college students issued a public statement calling for “an informed and dispassionate public debate over the effects of the 21 year-old drinking age.” They called it the Amethyst Initiative . Here’s a link to their statement: http://www.amethystinitiative.org/statement/. It’s an interesting group, made up of some of the finest minds in the country. For the rest of us — who aren’t college or university presidents — there’s Choose Responsibility, a non-profit group interested in starting public debate on the consequences of the 21 year-old drinking age.

        • Ajax the Great
          May 14, 2011

          And they’re not the only ones who are questioning the effectiveness of the 21 drinking age. Google “Miron and Tetelbaum” and you’ll see a study that shows that the supposed lifesaving effects of the 21 drinking age have essentially been a mirage. Or take a look at my blog, Twenty-One Debunked, where you will find further counter-evidence that the mainstream media doesn’t like to discuss for some reason.

    • dawn
      December 12, 2012

      Liz, I don’t understand why you would think it was even all right for your 18 year old to drink at home or at all. I hate when I have to worry about my 19 year old going to a barbeque or something where, Oh wait, these parents think they are so cool!, and let the kids drink. I wish no one drank, alcohol sucks and brings nothing but problems!

      • HM Epstein
        December 12, 2012

        Dawn, it’s true that drinking causes terrible trouble for some people and also that some parents choose to break the law by serving drinks to our children. As parents, we can’t wish that away. There is always need for better support for alcoholics and for better enforcement of existing laws. The questions we are trying to address here are these: How do we teach our children to co-exist in a world in which alcohol is readily available without either demonizing it or glorifying it? How do we create a society in which a glass of wine is an accompaniment to a fine meal and not a pathway to drunk driving or binge drinking? Now that there are new laws that require zero proof of wrongdoing, how do we protect our families and our homes from accusations and liability that can destroy them?

      • Lady Donna Marie Royce
        December 31, 2012

        I see no problem for a RESPONSIBLE person of age to have a drink or two. BUT! If one is driving, DO NOT DRINK! If one is hosting a party like I will be this spring for my first ever house warming party and alcohol will be there (I am telling my friends it is a BYOB party.) and I will insist strongly that EVERY ONE hands their keys over to me first. No keys, NO DRINKING! I would rather have them a bit ticked at me and alive rather then them drunk and dead all over the road! End of line.
        I am even going as far as to seeing if the local Cops have one of those pocket “breathalyzers” they would loan me for that night. I WILL USE IT! I will not let my friends try to drive even a little buzzed and perhaps end up as a road side sculpture to driving drunk!
        I will be telling all that come to bring a sleeping bag or a bed roll and be ready to use it if they intend to drink that night. I would rather have wall to wall friends in my house sleeping it off, then have them scattered all over the Highway!

        Lady Donna Marie Royce

        • HM Epstein
          December 31, 2012

          Lady Donna, it appears you are talking about requiring car keys in exchange for alcohol for guests “of age”, meaning 21 and over. That’s a delightful idea as is requesting a breathalyzer (there are websites that sell them for reasonable amounts). How it works when the party is a BYOB is a detail I’m sure you’ll work out. However, since social host laws refer to party hosts and underage drinking, please know it’s illegal to permit minors to drink, even if you take their keys.

  18. Laura
    March 23, 2011

    I find it outrageous that I could be arrested if my teenage kids have a party that I am not home for and that I knew nothing about beforehand. Are all parents supposed to stay home every evening of the week in order to avoid this situation? I am looking forward to reading more about this to learn how to protect myself.

    • H. M. Epstein
      March 24, 2011

      I agree! Wish I could give you a simple answer, but since most SHLs are local (county, city or town), where you live greatly impacts how much a micro-managing-mom you need to become. We’re trying to compile a database of local ordinances to complement APIS’ State Map data (Click on the Social host laws by state tab). If you can’t wait for the new database and need to know now; send me a private message with your town and county, I can look up the law in your area. Just fill out a comment form with your data. I won’t approve it for posting to keep your privacy intact.

  19. Norma
    March 23, 2011

    I want to read more on this subject. I had no idea that the government was this intrusive.

    • H. M. Epstein
      March 24, 2011

      Thanks Norma. There’s lots more coming. Of course, how intrusive the SHL is depends on what region of the country you live in. Some local ordinances are breathtakingly scary, while others are just mildly irritating.

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