Underage Drinking

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Social Host Liability

Often, parents and other adults have a high tolerance for underage drinking parties, allowing them to occur on their property and without any supervision. This community tolerance for underage drinking may stem from several misconceptions about youth alcohol consumption.[6]

Myth: “Alcohol is a relatively harmless drug compared to illegal drugs.”

Fact: Compared to youth who wait until they are 21, youth who drink before age 15 are 12 times more likely to be unintentionally injured while under the influence of alcohol, 7 times more likely to be in a motor vehicle crash after drinking, and 10 times more likely to get in a physical fight after drinking.[7] Drinking drivers under age 21 are involved in fatal crashes at two times the rate of adult drivers.[8] In addition, there is a strong correlation between youth alcohol use and violence, risky sexual behavior, poor school performance, and suicide.[9] Recent evidence suggests adolescent drinking can inflict permanent damage on the developing brain.[10] Early onset drinking is associated with greater levels of alcohol problems in adulthood.[11]

Myth: “Alcohol use is rite of passage to adulthood.”

Fact: Not all adolescents drink, and many who do drink in high school or college choose to drink less as they enter young adulthood, suggesting that both developmental and contextual factors contribute to alcohol consumption during adolescence.[12]

Myth: “Underage drinking is inevitable, and it is safer if it occurs in a controlled, residential setting.”

Fact: Underage drinking parties represent an unusually high risk setting for youth alcohol problems, including alcohol-related traffic crashes, other forms of injury, sexual assaults, and other forms of violence. Further, providing alcohol to adolescents explicitly indicates approval of underage alcohol use, while disregarding underage drinking may lead to future substance use or abuse. Despite increasing peer influences as children age, parents continue to play an important role in shaping alcohol use behavior among adolescents. Protective parental attitudes generally deter alcohol use among youth. On the other hand, when parents provide alcohol to teenagers at parties, there is a significantly greater likelihood of regular and binge drinking by youth. These behaviors are also strong predictors of alcohol use and misuse in later life.