Virginia Alcohol Laws: Think You Know Them? Don’t Guess!

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

Virginia alcohol laws apply to residents of the state. They also apply to its visitors. Its laws may vary from those in other states. But ignorance of the law is not a legal defense.


          1. Minimum Age Laws
          2. Other Alcohol Laws
          3. Resources
          4. Legal Advice

I. Minimum Age Laws

Often young people want part-time jobs. And many of these are in hospitality. Some may involve serving or selling alcohol.

What’s the minimum age to work as a bartender? To work as a servers in a venue that sells alcohol to drink on-site? And what age to sell alcohol to drink elsewhere? Youths have questions. So we have facts for them.

Virginia alcohol laws permit adults of age 18 or older to serve in venues selling alcohol to drink on site. It generally requires them to be age 21 or older to work as bartenders.

But adults under 21 can sell or serve beer for on-premises drinking in a venue that sells beer only. They may also sell or serve wine for on-site use in a venue that sells wine only.

Virginia laws do not have any minimum legal age for selling alcohol in a venue for use elsewhere. But another worker age 21 or older must be present.

Virginia’s alcohol laws let persons of any age under 21 drink in a private residence. A spouse, parent or guardian must be present.

Many parents drink with their offspring under 21. They think it’s better to learn to drink in parents’ house than in a frat house. That approach is effective.

They also let those under 21 have alcohol as a guest in the house of another. Once more, a parent, guardian, or spouse who is age 21 or older must be present.

II. Other Virginia Alcohol Laws

A. Selling Alcohol

Courts can fine a clerk or server who sells alcohol to someone under 21 for up to $2,500. That, and/or to up to one year in jail. For a first-time offense courts can also fine the venue up to $2,000. It can also revoke the alcohol license for a first-time offense.

Bars are illegal in Virginia. Only restaurants can serve drinks for drinking on the premises.

Virginia is an alcohol monopoly state for the sale of all distilled spirits (liquor). The state owns and operates every liquor store.  Prices are high. Selection is limited. Service is poor.

Some counties are dry for spirits sales. They’re Bland, Buchanan, Charlotte, Craig, Floyd, Grayson, Highland, Lee, Patrick and Russell. They permit the sale of beer and wine. But this reflects a myth.

Standard Drinks

The myth is that spirits have more alcohol than beer and wine. But standard drinks of beer, wine and spirits all have the same amount of pure alcohol. It’s six tenths of an ounce. They all have the same alcohol content.

Virginia prohibits serving alcohol in “novel or unusual containers.” Yet it has ambiguous guidelines. That makes hard deciding what is ok.

The state prohibits fondling or caressing one’s own buttocks in venues that sell alcohol. It’s true!

B. Buying Alcohol

Those under 21 may not buy alcohol. And the use of a false ID card to buy it is a crime. As is the attempt to buy it.

The penalty for using a false is a fine of up to $2,500 and/or one year in jail. At the least, it’s a $500 fine or 50 hours of community service. Also, the state may suspend the driver’s license for up to one year.

virginia alcohol lawsThe penalty for possessing alcohol under age 21, even if an adult, is severe. It’s a fine of up to $2,500 and/or a year in jail. At the least, it’s a fine of $500 or 50 hours of community service. In addition, it’s a suspended driver’s license for at least six months. The court can also order alcohol abuse education, counseling, or treatment. Of course, the offender must pay for this.

Except for a parent or spouse age 21 or older, providing alcohol to anyone under age 21 is illegal. The penalty is jail for up to 12 months and/or a fine of up to $2,500.

It’s illegal for anyone to drink alcoholic beverages in a public place. That includes such places as streets, parks, and parking lots.

Good Samaritan

Alcohol poisoning can kill. Often people fail to seek help for themselves or others for fear of punishment. So Virginia alcohol laws deal with that problem. It’s a medical emergency amnesty or Good Samaritan law to save lives.

If a person seeks medical help for themselves or another they can be immune to certain possession or intoxication charges. The person must self-identify as the one who sought help. Also, the person must cooperate with any police investigation of the possible alcohol overdose.

C. Driving

It’s a violation of Virginia alcohol laws to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. For those under age 21, it’s illegal to drive with a BAC of 0.02% or higher. It would be 0.00% except for at least three reasons.

One is that breath testers are often unreliable and provide false readings. Another is that everyone produces alcohol in their bodies 24/7.

A third is that many meds as well as foods contain alcohol. For example, all baked foods do.

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


The penalty for a first conviction for driving under the influence (DUI) is a one-year driver license suspension. It’s three years for a second or third conviction. A DUI conviction can require an alcohol education course, assessment for alcohol, or treatment. The offender pays for this.

virginia alcohol lawsVirginia alcohol laws provide additional penalty options for DUI. One is an expensive required ignition interlock device (IID) on the convicted’s vehicle. The offender pays for this. Another is confiscation of the offender’s vehicle.

Virginia has a “zero tolerance” policy for those under 21 driving with a BAC of 0.02 or more. Punishment includes suspension of drivers license for one year. Also a required fine of at least $500 or having to performing at least 50 hours of community service.

Passengers in a vehicle may legally drink alcohol. But the driver must not drink.

Constitutional Right

All drivers have a U.S. Constitutional right to decline BAC testing. Even if requested by law enforcement. But the state punishes those who use their right. To do so it suspends their drivers license for up to one year.

But all states permit drivers to decline taking a field sobriety test. They are very subjective. And not reliable. Thirty percent of people with a BAC of 0.00% fail field sobriety tests! That’s about one of every three. And they fail under ideal indoor conditions.

Defense attorneys strongly urge drivers not to take them. They recommend that drivers politely decline. And to do so as often as needed. But that may take strong will-power.

That’s because police may tell drivers the law requires it. That’s false. Or they tell drivers they can prove their innocence. But that’s backward. It’s the state that has to prove the driver is guilty.

While investigating, police can legally lie. So don’t be a sucker.

Learn more at Never Take a Field Sobriety Test.

D. Boating

virginia alcohol lawsVirginia alcohol laws prohibit boating while intoxicated (BWI). Boating includes any boat, sailboard, personal watercraft, water skis, or similar devices. The intoxication can be from alcohol and/or drugs.

For those 21 or older, it’s illegal to operate with a BAC of 0.08% or higher. Or if an impairment enough to be unable to operate safely. For those under 21, it’s a BAC of 0.02% or higher. Or an impairment enough they can’t operate safely. But an officer determines that. So it’s very subjective.

The state fines up to $2,500 those found guilty of BWI. It also jails them for up to 12 months. They must complete an Alcohol Alcohol Safety Action Program. Finally, the state suspends their operator’s license for up to 12 months. That’s for a first conviction. The suspension is for up to three years for subsequent convictions.

The state punishes those who use their Constitutional right to decline a BAC test. To do so it suspends their operator’s license for up to 24 months.

III. Resources on Virginia Alcohol Laws

IV. Advice on Drinking Laws of Virginia

Laws change. So does their interpretation. They may conflict. It’s not simple. That’s why we have lawyers. So do not rely on this site. Nor on any other site.

And be cautious. Friends may give advice. Co-workers may give opinions. Kin may give suggestions. All try to help. Smile and thank them. Then ignore their advice. It’s probably worth what it cost. That is, nothing.

Advice on Virginia alcohol laws should come from an expert. That is a lawyer with a license in the state.

Alcohol practices vary across the state. So it’s a good idea to select one very familiar with the locale in question. The Virginia State Bar has a free lawyer referral service.