Underage Drinking & the Law

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

Statistics – 2012

Alcohol use among teens maintained historic lows in 2012, continuing a long-term gradual decline.

Drinking by minors has dropped dramatically

Drinking by minors has dropped dramatically

The movement to add Social Host Laws (SHLs) to the legislative mix is based on the assertion that we still have a long way to go to prevent kids from drinking. Yet, across the board, major government, university and national statistics show that alcohol use and binge drinking among high school students has declined steadily over the past three decades, and continues to decline annually.

There are competing theories for the apparent success, with early education, community involvement, improved bar and restaurant compliance and law enforcement all contributing their bit. We should celebrate (substance-free of course) the efforts of lawmakers, police and community groups.

If things are so rosy, why then are we creating controversial new laws? Social Host Laws for responsible adults and tougher penalties for underage drinkers and hosts are spreading at a rapid rate in communities across the country. Thirty states have specific Social Host statutes in their criminal code. More include language in their criminal and civil codes that penalize homeowners and renters regardless of their lack of knowledge or presence. Studies into SHLs’ effectiveness have not demonstrated they work, possibly because there are so many versions and too many variables to test.

Perhaps SHLs are being adopted because we haven’t seen the same dramatic impact on young people’s perceptions and attitudes as we’ve seen on behavior. Most teens disapprove of extreme drinking behaviors ­— like drinking every day or binge drinking on the weekends — but the majority of teens doesn’t see the harm in it. In other words, they don’t think “binging” is a good idea but they don’t believe it can really hurt them.

However, I fear that many SHLs are based on misinformation and local law enforcement’s budgetary needs. “Misinformation” because many individuals and groups advocating for these new laws routinely use old statistics or static statistics with no trend data. It’s easy to become a Chicken Little when you don’t have access to all the facts. “Budgetary needs” because the fines collected go to your local sheriff or police

So, click here for the facts. There are equal amounts of good news and bad to go around. The following graphs and charts are based on data from three main sources: Monitoring the Future (MTF), The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) and Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS). [Click here for details]


Monitoring the Future (MTF) is a long-term study of American adolescents, college students, and adults through age 50. It has been conducted annually by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research since its inception in 1975 and is supported under a series of investigator-initiated, competing research grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The top line results from the most recent version of the study were released in December 2011. http://monitoringthefuture.org/

Each year the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Data Archives (SAMHDA) releases The National Survey on Drug Use and Health which measures drug use in the United States among members of US households aged 12 and older. The surveys are designed to provide quarterly, as well as annual, estimates. SAMHDA, the data archive of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services. It is important to understand that the focus of this study is on substance abuse and mental health issues for use by governmental and private substance abuse and mental health facilities. http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/SAMHDA/index.jsp

The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) is a bi-annual study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which monitors six types of health-risk behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among youth and adults, including alcohol use. The most recent results are from the 2011 study which were released in early summer of 2012. http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/yrbs/index.htm

3 comments on “Statistics – 2012

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