Underage drinking is one of the deadliest social problems affecting our country today, and Berkshire County is no exception. Alcohol is the number one drug choice of our youth, killing 6 times more people under the age of 21 than all illicit drugs combined. We can no longer look at underage drinking as a rite of passage. Underage drinking has dangerous consequences not only for the drinker, but also for society at large, as evidenced by the number of alcohol-involved motor vehicle crashes, homicides, suicides and other injuries.
A recent survey revealed that 65% of underage youth say they get alcohol from family or friends, meaning they get it from their parents, their friends' parents, older siblings or friends, with or without permission.
Understanding the Law
The potential penalties-arrest, fines, loss of a driver's license, and even jail time- are very real and can change a young life. A criminal record can impact college plans, eligibility for financial aid, employment opportunities, and career plans.
The law is clear-in Massachusetts it is illegal for a person under 21 to:
- Purchase, attempt to purchase or induce another to purchase or in any way procure alcohol
- Use a false license or ID, alter a license or ID, use another person's license or ID, or use false information to obtain a license or ID
- Possess, carry or transport alcohol (unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, or at least 18 years old and acting in an employment capacity)
- Possess an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle
- Drive under the influence of alcohol or any intoxicating substance (e.g., alcohol, illegal drugs or prescription drugs)
Anyone convicted of a drug offense, whether in Massachusetts or another state, will have their driver's license suspended for 1 to 5 years, even if no motor vehicle was involved in the offense.
In Massachusetts a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) ratio reading of .02 or above, or a refusal to take the breath test, results in a loss of license for 180 days for anyone under 21.
21 is the minimum drinking age law in all 50 states, but do you know why?
- Teenage deaths in fatal car crashes dropped considerably-28%-when the laws were moved to age 21
- A young brain does not finish developing until a person is 20 years old
- Young brains are vulnerable to dangerous effects of alcohol, especially on learning and memory function
- Young drinkers show elevated liver enzymes, indicating some form of liver damage
- Drinking alcohol upsets the hormonal balance necessary for development of organs, muscles and bones
Social Host Law
Young people and the adults in their lives must not only understand the tragic health and social problems associated with underage drinking, but also must realize the serious legal consequences involved in breaking the law. Adults need to be aware of laws regarding underage drinking. Furnishing alcohol to a minor is a criminal offense. It is illegal for an adult to sell, deliver or furnish alcohol to anyone under the age of 21.
Parents may be tempted to host parties with alcohol for their minor-aged children and their friends in the mistaken belief that it is a safer option for the kids to drink at home rather than to drink somewhere else. They would be wrong. Adult supervised parties at which alcohol is served to minors is neither legal nor responsible. Providing alcohol to those under 17 may also result in a charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. A separate charge can be issued for each minor receiving the alcohol. Parents also need to consider the added risks of leaving a teen home alone if they go away for the weekend or on vacation. Parents may be held responsible even if they are not home when underage drinking occurs on their property. If someone is injured or killed as a result of the actions of one of their guests, they can also be civilly liable. If your underage teen drinks and drives you may be legally liable for any damage, injury or death caused by your child. This is especially true if you provided the alcohol. Adults must recognize that allowing underage drinking under any circumstances sends a potentially dangerous mixed message.