North Carolina Alcohol Laws: Be Aware of Them

This page will help you understand North Carolina alcohol laws and avoid expensive fines or even jail. Also time and legal costs.

North Carolina alcohol laws apply to its residents. But they also apply to its visitors. Its laws differ in some ways from those elsewhere. Also, local alcohol laws vary widely across the state’ counties. Some are dry, some are moist, and some are wet. Laws also differ between cities. It’s wise to know and follow them.

See list of dry townships and towns in U.S. It’s section IV of Local Option.  


I.   Minimum Age Laws
II.  Other Alcohol Laws
III. Resources
IV.  Get Legal Advice

I. Minimum Age Laws

Some young people want to work part-time. Hospitality has many jobs. Some involve alcohol. Youths have questions. What’s the minimum age for serving alcohol in a restaurant? What is it for selling alcohol for use elsewhere? How about for tending bar?

Young people have questions. So we have facts for them.

North Carolina’s alcohol laws permit adults to serve alcohol in restaurants. That is, people 18 or over. Or in any other venue for on-site consumption. The same is for tending bar. Those who sell spirits must also be adults. But there’s no minimum legal age law for selling beer or wine in such a venue.

Local alcohol laws are often more restrictive than state law. Some being to the point of prohibition. That’s because of local option.

False ID

The use of a false ID to buy alcohol is a crime. It is also illegal for those under 21 to drive with any alcohol in their blood. The only legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for them is 0.00%.

north carolina alcohol lawsNorth Carolina alcohol laws make no exceptions for consuming alcohol under age 21. So it’s illegal for 20-year-old newlyweds to share a glass of Champagne at their reception. Nor may a doctor prescribe meds containing alcohol.

It’s also illegal for an adult of 20 to take communion wine. Or wine at Seder. There are no exceptions for religion. This seems to violate freedom of religion. That is a right guaranteed by the US Constitution.

II. Other North Carolina Alcohol Laws

A. Selling Alcohol

It’s a violation of North Carolina alcohol laws to sell alcohol to anyone under 21. That includes adults 18, 19, and 20. There are no exceptions. Even for those serving in the US military.

It’s illegal to sell or serve alcohol to anyone who is intoxicated.

Retailers may sell or serve alcohol between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays. They may only sell or serve it after noon on Sundays. But some counties and towns further restrict Sunday sales.

Retailers may not do these.

    • Have Happy Hours. That is, offer free or reduced drink prices during limited hours.
    • Offer certain drink specials or promotions. That includes two for the price of one, or buy one and get one free. Or buy one and get another for a nickel, or buy a meal (or anything) and get a free drink, etc.
    • Permit customers to continue drinking on their premises after 2:30 a.m.

B. Buying Alcohol

It’s illegal for anyone under to buy alcohol, or to try to buy it. Helping anyone under 21 obtain alcohol is also illegal. This includes buying or giving them alcohol. Or lending an ID so they can buy it. Nor may parents, ministers, doctors give or administer even a tiny amount of alcohol for any reason. Many meds as well as foods contain alcohol. Even bread does.

Customers may only receive one drink at a time. The only exception is a boiler maker. It’s one shot in one beer. Only two or more customers may buy a pitcher of beer. But one customer may buy one bottle of wine. And a customer may re-cap a partially consumed bottle of wine and take it away.

It’s illegal to possess an unregistered, unlabeled beer keg. The judge sets the amount of the fine and also the jail time. It may be up to 45 days.

Customers may not use federal food assistance (“food stamps”) to buy alcohol.

C. Driving and Alcohol

North Carolina alcohol laws prohibit driving while impaired (DWI). People are driving with impairment if their BAC is 0.08% or higher. With a prior DWI conviction and for commercial drivers, it’s 0.04%. For those under age 21, any measurable alcohol is DWI.

Most other states set DWI for those under at 0.02% or higher. They do this for several reasons. One is that alcohol breath testers are unreliable. In fact, they don’t actually measure BAC. They only estimate it.

A second is that everyone produces alcohol in their bodies 24/7. And they don’t wait until age 21 to do it. Third, as noted above, many meds and foods contain alcohol.

So setting the level at 0.02% reduces the chances of convicting innocent young drivers.

north carolina alcohol lawsDrivers under 21 with any measurable alcohol are punished with license suspension. Of course, they may be completely innocent. Yet it’s 30 days for a pretrial period and then for one year after that. The judge decides what other penalties to impose. Typically these are fines, court costs and community service.

Lower than Legal !

In addition, the state may charge drivers with DWI even if their BAC is within the legal range. It simply takes the belief of an officer think a driver is impaired. Of course, that’s highly subjective.

North Carolina DWI offenses fall into six levels. They increase in severity from Level 5 up to Aggravated Level 1. The judge alone decides into which category a DWI charge falls. Factors may include the BAC level, age, current driving record, demeanor, and other facts. By far, the judge may be most important of all.

   Level 5

    • Immediate License suspension for 30 days.
    • Fine up to $200.
    • Jail for one to 60 days.
    • Possible probation.
    • Substance abuse assessment, if on probation.

   Level 4

    • north carolina alcohol lawsImmediate license suspension for 30 days.
    • Fine up to $500.
    • Jail for two to 120 days.
    • Substance abuse assessment, if on probation.

   Level 3

    • Immediate license suspension for 30 days.
    • Fine up to $1,000.
    • Jail for 72 hours to six months.
    • Possible parole.
    • Substance abuse assessment, if on probation.

   Level 2

    • Immediate license suspension for 30 days.
    • Fine up to $2,000.
    • Jail for seven days to one year. But judge might reduce sentence to 90 days of court-monitored abstinence from alcohol.
    • Possible parole.
    • Substance abuse assessment, if on probation.

   Level 1

    • north carolina alcohol lawsImmediate license suspension for 30 days.
    • Fine up to $4,000.
    • Jail for 30 days to two years. But judge might reduce sentence to 120 days of court-monitored abstinence from alcohol.
    • Substance abuse assessment, if on probation.

Aggravated Level 1

    • Immediate license suspension for 30 days.
    • Fine up to $10,000.
    • Prison for one to three years. Judge might reduce sentence to 120 days with court-monitored alcohol abstinence for at least 120 days.
    • Court-monitored abstinence from alcohol for four months after release from prison.
    • Also, substance abuse assessment. Even if not on probation.
Ignition Interlock Device
north carolina alcohol laws
Ignition Interlock Device

An ignition interlock device (IID) prevents a vehicle from starting if it detects alcohol in the driver’s breath. The state mandates an IDD for any driver with a BAC of 0.15 or higher. Or for a later offense within seven years.

Then the offender must pay for the installation, maintenance, and monitoring of the IID. The cost is high.

Driver Rights

All drivers have a U.S. Constitutional right to decline submitting to a chemical test. But the state punishes those who use their right. They receive license suspension for one year and 30 days. That is, the the suspension is one year longer than if the person plead guilty to DWI.

Yet there is no legal penalty for refusing to take a field sobriety test. The scoring are highly subjective and they are highly unreliable. For example, about one-third of completely sober people fail to pass them. That is, about one in three people with zero alcohol (BAC 0.00%) can’t pass. And that’s under ideal indoor conditions!

north carolina alcohol lawsLawyers strongly urge drivers never to take one. Police often insist that the law requires it. But no law in any state does.

A traffic stop for suspected DWI is a criminal investigation.  Therefore, it’s completely legal for an officer to lie to a suspect. So if you are a suspect in a DWI, the officer is never your friend or ally.

Also learn more at Never Take a Field Sobriety Test.

Keep in Mind

It’s smart not to drink and drive. At best, a DWI can cost thousands of dollars, eliminate personal freedom, and damage a good reputation. At worst, it cause serious injury or even death.

D. Boating and Alcohol

north carolina alcohol lawsNorth Carolina alcohol laws prohibit operating any boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Doing so is boating boating under the influence (BUI). It also includes riding waterskis, surfboards, wakeboards, or similar devices.

Boaters are guilty of BUI if they operate a vessel under the influence of an impairing substance. Or if they have a BAC of 0.08% or higher “at any relevant time after boating.”

Offenses depend on the offender’s criminal history and the judge. However the typical penalty for a BUI is jail up to 60 days and a fine of $250 to $1,000. In addition, there are increasing penalties for certain BUI offenses.

BUI Penalties

Serious Injury by Impaired Boating. If a BUI offender causes a serious injury, the penalty is ten to 41 months in prison. Judges can also impose fines.

Aggravated Serious Injury by Impaired Boating. This is if a BUI offender had a BUI conviction within seven years and causes serious injury. The penalty is prison for 38 to 160 months. Again, judges can also impose fines.

Death by Impaired Boating. If a BUI offender causes a death, the penalty is 38 to 160 months in prison. Judges can also impose fines.

Aggravated Death by Impaired Boating. This is when a BUI offender had a BUI conviction in seven years and causes causes a death. The penalty is prison for 38 to 160 months. Judges also can impose fines.

Repeat Death by Impaired Boating. If a BUI offender causes death and has a prior conviction for Death by Impaired Boating. The penalty is 94 to 393 months in prison. Judges can also impose fines.

III. Resources on North Carolina Alcohol Laws North Carolina alcohol laws

IV. Get Legal Advice

North Carolina alcohol laws may change. Courts may change their legal interpretations. Laws may conflict with each other. Of course, they can be very complex. In fact, lawyers spend years in law school.

Do not rely on this site. Nor on any other. Also beware of advice from family and friends. And of neighbors, co-workers, and others eager to help. Smile, thank them, and then ignore their ideas. Their advice is worth what you paid for it. In other words, nothing. Worse, their advice could be wrong.

Laws are not a DIY project. So get advice about North Carolina alcohol laws from an expert. That is a lawyer with a license in the state.


Also, do you know of any fact that should be added? If so, please contact hansondj (at sign) Potsdam (dot) edu/. Thank you for your help!