Under-Age Drinking Laws: Legal in Most States in US

Under-age drinking laws often surprise people. In most states they permit those under 21 to drink. The places and situations differ.

People commonly think that it’s illegal for anyone in the US under 21 to drink alcohol. But that’s simply not true.

This myth about under-age drinking laws intimidates many parents. They’re afraid to teach their children how to drink in moderation. Thus the myth is counterproductive.

A government report showed when those under 21 can legally drink.1 That information is listed here.

State Under-Age Drinking Laws

StateConsumption PermittedAdditional Information or Requirements
AlaskaYesIn private locations and with either parent/guardian or spouse.
ColoradoYesIn private.  Consent of property owner location and parent/ guardian required.
DelawareYesIn private residence with either parent/guardian or spouse.
HawaiiYesIn private locations.
IdahoNoConsumption prohibited but possession of beer and wine permitted in private residence with parent/guardian is legal.
IllinoisYesIn private residence and with parent/guardian.
IowaYesPublic drinking is illegal for anyone of any age.
LouisianaYesIn private residence or with either parent/guardian or  spouse.
MaineYesIn private residence with parent/guardian.
MarylandYesIn private residence with either parent/guardian or spouse.
MinnesotaYesIn parent/guardian’s home with parent/guardian.
New HampshireYes
New JerseyYes
New MexicoYesWhen a parent, guardian or spouse 21 or over serves it on property other than licensed premises. And when it’s under the control of the parent, guardian spouse 21 or older.
New YorkYes
North CarolinaNo
North DakotaNo
OhioYesWith either parent/guardian or spouse.
OregonYesIn a private residence with parent/spouse.
Rhode IslandYes
South CarolinaNoConsumption prohibited but possession permitted in home of parent/ guardian.
South DakotaYesWith parent/guardian or spouse.
TexasYesWith parent/guardian or spouse.
VirginiaYesIn private residence with parent/guardian or spouse.
WashingtonYesWith parent/guardian.
West VirginiaNo
WyomingYesWith parent/guardian or spouse.

NOTE: Laws and their interpretation can change over time. Consult a lawyer for legal advice. Also many law enforcement officials and others are unaware of actual under-age drinking laws.

Part of Western Society

Alcohol has always been a part of Western society. The majority of Americans drink at least occasionally. It’s unrealistic to think children will never drink as adults.

Not even religious groups that teach abstinence are able to maintain it well among their young people. This is even true among students attending church related schools.

Drinking: Highly Successful Groups

Yet Italians, Jews, Greeks, French, Portuguese and many others drink with few problems. They have three keys to success. 1. Beliefs about alcohol. 2. Attitudes and actions about drinking. 3. Teaching about drinking.

In groups that successfully avoid alcohol problems:

  • Alcohol itself is neutral. It is basically neither good nor bad.
  • Drinking in moderation is normal. There is little or no pressure to drink. But there is no tolerance for drinking abusively.
  • Alcohol education is in the home from an early age. Youth learn  that when people choose to drink, they must do so responsibly. They learn from their parents’ good example and guidance.

In the vast majority of states that permit it, parents can serve their young people alcoholic beverages. This helps them learn to drink in moderation. Most people think it’s better to learn to drink in the parents’ house than in a fraternity house.

Know what your state’s under-age drinking laws are. Visit State and Local Alcohol Laws.