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Underage Drinking in the United States: What Are The Laws?

In 1948, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act was passed. According to the Act, the legal age that is standardized for the public purchase and consumption of alcohol in the United States is 21. But these underage drinking laws are enforced by each state of the country in different ways. If an individual is found convicted for either purchasing or attempting to purchase, possessing or consuming alcohol below the age of 21, then he/she will have to face possible punishments for the crime they have committed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had stated that out of all the alcohol that is consumed in the US, 10% is by those between the age of 12, and 20, and they have also stated that 4000 deaths occur every year as a result of underage drinking. The statistics clearly state that underage drinking in the United States is a grave problem.


 Underage Drinking in the United States
What Did the National Minimum Drinking Age Act State?

  • The law required the government to hold on to a portion of the Federal highway funds from that state which does not bring into motion a prohibition of alcohol purchase and consumption under the age of 21.
  • In this context, minors (those who are below 21 years of age) are prohibited from buying alcohol or alcoholic beverages.
  • Possessing or consuming alcohol is also considered unlawful for minors.
  • Moreover, according to the law, adults are prohibited from furnishing alcohol to any minor.
  • In some States, the internal possession of alcohol is also considered to be a crime for minors.


These were the direct laws as stated by the National Minimum Drinking Age Act but apart from this, there are several policies too which help to ensure that these laws are maintained.

Some of those Policies Aim at:

  • Prohibiting the minors from using any type of false identification to purchase alcohol
  • Revocation or suspension of a minor’s driving privileges when they are caught for underage possession, purchase, or consumption of alcohol
  • Drivers of trucks, motorcycles, and any other non-commercial automobile who have not yet reached the age of 21 have limits for blood alcohol concentration
  • Fixation of a minimum age of a person working in a bar or an alcohol seller
  • Specification of requirements if someone is purchasing or selling beer kegs
  • Make social hosts aware of the liability that is imposed on them for hosting underage drinking parties on either their own property or one that is leased or has some other control.


Underage Drinking
What are the Exceptions to the Age Stated by the National Minimum Drinking Age Act?

The exceptions to the minimum age of legal drinking being 21 are based on the following grounds:

  • Instances related to some form of education
  • Religious circumstances
  • When there has been consent from a guardian, parent or spouse
  • Lawful employment
  • Reasons concerning some sort of medical issue
  • Reasons for law enforcement

Currently, there are a total of 11 States where the consumption of alcohol does not follow a minimum age limit when it is due to educational reasons. There are 16 states where the exception of age is due to medical reasons and 4 states consider the exemption due to employment or law enforcement reasons.

But the consequences of underage drinking can be severe. Alcohol can hamper the brain functioning of an adult-causing change in their mood and behavior. It can also lead to sudden impulses. Moreover, it affects a person’s decision-making abilities. The effects of underage drinking also include alcohol abuse and the chances are magnified when the person starts to consume alcohol before the age of 15. But after the laws were enforced, there has been a significant reduction of underage drinking cases in the US.


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