The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) in 2013 found that 8.7 million people between the ages of 12 and 20 reported drinking alcohol in the previous month. The reasons why underage alcohol consumption is so prevalent within the United States is varied and unique to an individual’s personal circumstances. One major factor is teens’ access to alcoholic substances via certain establishments selling alcohol to minors.
The laws in place
According to the 2003 “Alcohol Beverage Control Enforcement: Legal Research Report,” produced by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Congress enacted the National Minimum Drinking Age Law in 1984, which prohibited people under the age of 21 from purchasing or publicly possessing alcohol. In addition to the damage underage drinking can inflict on adolescents, those who enable it are at risk for harsh punishments as well. Under the regulation of the California Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Department, establishments that have been given a license to sell alcohol are accountable for any violation. Currently, there is a three-strike law that will result in a revoked license if three infractions occur within a three-year period. The individual server to a minor will also be convicted of a misdemeanor, acquire a criminal record and pay a penalty. If any parties are injured or harmed by the event, they can attempt to seek compensation as well.
Prevention strategies in place
One successful prevention strategy is known as test purchasing of alcohol by minors in connection with law enforcement. Utilized as a sting operation, the practice allows police to understand why sales to minors occur in addition to stopping them. For example, a 1997 landmark study from Swansea University used this process to show its effectiveness on underage consumption. After national campaigns in England enforced this new practice, the rate of alcohol sales to minors dropped from 50 percent in 2004 to 15 percent in 2007. More recent studies in Scotland deemed that test purchasing was the most useful intervention for decreasing underage alcohol sales.
Researchers from the U.S. Department of Transportation suggested that purchase provisions should be analyzed in conjunction with laws against possession. In fact, teens cannot illegally purchase alcohol without possessing it afterward. Therefore, if a minor is caught purchasing alcohol, he or she may be prosecuted for two offenses, with purchasing alcohol as the more serious of the two. If adolescents become aware of these punishments, they may be more likely to comply with the law.
Sovereign Health of Rancho San Diego is a facility that specializes in treating adolescents and teenagers struggling with substance abuse, mental health disorders and dual diagnosis. Call to speak with a professional today.
Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer