A nation-wide study in the U.S. examined the effects of 20 underage drinking laws The objective was to determine their effects on alcohol-related underage traffic crash deaths. Included were laws against giving alcohol to underage people. That is, to those under 21 years of age.
The researchers’ structural equation model included the 20 laws in question as well as other factors. These were state economic strength, driving exposure, seat belt laws, impaired driving laws, and beer consumption. Naturally, it included fatal crash ratios of drinking to non-drinking drivers under 21.
Eleven of the 20 laws were found ineffective in reducing underage alcohol-related crash fatalities. However, laws prohibiting giving alcohol to underage persons had a very large impact. The laws dramatically increase the likelihood of such deaths.
Surprisingly, the lead researcher is a a well-known neo-prohibitionist.
But the results are not surprising.
Evidence from groups around the world shows that when parents serve their children alcohol, drinking problems are reduced. Such groups familiar to most people include Jews, Italians, French, Greeks, Portuguese and Spaniards.
These groups share common keys to their success with alcohol.
- Alcohol is seen as inherently neither good nor bad. It’s how it’s used that is important.
- There are two equally acceptable choices about drinking. People may abstain or they may drink in moderation. But there is no tolerance at all for abusive drinking. By anyone. Anytime. For any reason. Period.
- Education about alcohol begins early in the home. Young people learn from their parents’ good example and under their supervision. Young people are taught by word and deed that if they ever drink, they must do so responsibly.
Research in the U.S. has found that serving young people alcohol reduces alcohol abuse.
How We “Teach” Drinking
If we taught driving the way we teach drinking, the roads would be a disaster. We would tell young people that driving is very dangerous. Never teach them rules of the road. We would never teach them driver ed. Never issue learner permits. We would never guide their driving. Upon their 21st birthday, we would hand them the keys to a car. We would tell it’s safer to take public transportation. But if they insist on driving, we’d tell them to do so carefully and try not to kill themselves or others.
But that’s how we teach drinking.
Note: In most states of the U.S. it is legal for parents to serve alcohol to underage “children” of their own. In some states other relatives may also legally do so. However, it is not legal to give alcohol to others who are under age 21.
Fell, J., et al. Assessing the impact of twenty underage drinking laws. J. Stud. Alcohol Drugs, 2016, 77(2), 249-260.