Last Updated on April 26, 2021 by Morris Green
North Carolina has a zero tolerance policy for purchasing or consuming alcohol if you are under 21. This is stricter than many other states which may allow small amounts of alcohol if children are at home and/or have their parents’ permission.
Here, we’ll lay out why this policy is important and what it means for you and your children.
Table of contents
Why Shouldn’t Kids Drink?
While North Carolina has stricter laws than most, the legal drinking age across the country is still 21. There have been public discussions in the last two decades that attempt to reconsider this policy, such as those by the nonprofit “Choose Responsibility.”
If you grew up in North Carolina, the laws on underage drinking may have changed since you were a teenager. This might cause you to disagree with the current laws.
Many state governments in the 1970s agreed with you; 29 states changed their laws to lower the drinking age from 18 to 21. However, studies around the time found that this led to an increase in traffic crashes, which eventually led to Congress raising the minimum drinking age to 21 in 1984. An article for the University of Minnesota School of Public Health summarized how the debates in prior generations compared to the debates now, concluding, “The preponderance of research evidence indicates that lowering the drinking age increased consumption and related problems while increasing the drinking age has reduced problems and saved lives.” The CDC agrees.
Some might argue that the problem here is not drunk minors, but drunk driving. In fact, alternative transportation programs have been shown to reduce impaired driving and traffic crashes in general. However, underage drinking has other risks besides traffic. It can increase your child’s risk of developing an Alcohol Use Disorder later in life. It can also lead to inhibited brain functioning in underage drinkers and increased aggression in drinkers of any age or gender.
Even in adults, the CDC reports that alcohol comes with an increased risk of cancer and other health conditions. For this reason, their Dietary Guidelines for Americans “do not recommend that individuals who do not drink alcohol start drinking for any reason.”
What Does the North Carolina Zero Tolerance Policy Mean?
If the health and traffic risks aren’t enough, consider the legal risks. Under North Carolina law, no one under the age of 21 may purchase, possess, or consume any amount of alcohol for any reason.
Here are some more policies included within that law:
Fake IDs. It is a criminal offense to purchase or sell a fake driver’s license for purchase of tobacco or alcohol products. Retailers are encouraged to use electronic scanners to spot fake IDs, and can seize a fake ID if someone presents one.
Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limits. Any amount greater than zero can be used as evidence of a violation.
Serving alcohol. While those under the age of 21 cannot purchase alcohol, legal adults 18 and older can serve beer, wine, and spirits. However, you must be 21 to sell spirits as a bartender.
Violations. You could be charged with jail time for breaking these laws, though Asheville DWI Lawyer James Minick says that this isn’t very likely. Other punishments might include probation, community service, and fines of up to $1000 (but again, it’s unlikely that you’ll actually be charged this much). You may also have your license suspended for up to one year.
Why Would Kids Want To Drink?
Despite North Carolina’s strict drinking laws, the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey done by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction found that by middle school, 20.4% of students had already tried alcohol. By high school, 24.2% of North Carolina students are actively drinking alcohol.
There are social and cultural factors that contribute to underage drinking. While sports participation can have many positive benefits for children, a 2006 study found a positive correlation between athletic sports participation and alcohol use, especially for girls. However, this isn’t limited to sports; in general, students are more likely to start drinking if their peers do it. In addition, a research review from the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism found a correlation between alcohol advertising and underage drinking.
Underage alcohol use can also come from trauma or other mental health conditions. Kids may find that alcohol provides a coping mechanism in dealing with stress in their life, such as school pressure, bullying, or problems at home.
How Can I Encourage My Child To Not Drink?
You can’t control every advertisement your child sees or every friend they may have at school. That said, there are still plenty of ways you can help your child, such as having good communication, looking after your kids’ mental health, and setting a good example.
Keep an eye out for symptoms of a mental health condition in your child:
- Increase or decrease in appetite or sleep
- Withdrawing from you or their friends
- Changes in mood, esp. sadness, anxiety, or irritability / outbursts
- Difficulty in school, incl. poor concentration, decreased attendance, or changes in academic performance
- Talk of harming themselves or their friends harming themselves
For more examples of how to talk to your kids about alcohol, see our articles on Empowering Girls and Empowering Boys.
North Carolina takes a hard stance when it comes to their underage drinking policy. Whether you agree or disagree, the risks for traffic accidents, criminal offenses on your child’s record, financial expenses if they’re caught, and even for the health of your child’s brain mean that turning a blind eye to your child’s drinking is not worth the risk.
I think these laws should apply to 18 and 19 year olds. Once you turn 20 you are no longer a teenager your an adult. Yes at 18 you can smoke ciggarettes but some might not be mature enough to drink. So i believe 20 should be the legal drinking age. Even at 21 or oldser you have people in the world who arent responsible enough to drink so lowering the age limit to 20 shouldnt be a big deal.
I agree with you, Jennifer. Some people are never responsible enough to drink. Some teens are more responsible and mature that some adults will ever be. However, based on biology, not teen stereotypes or anything else, but based on the stage of development that the brain is in, it would be unwise to open up drinking to teens, at least no one under 18. Part of our problem is that we prohibit people from literally making any contact with alcohol until they are 21, and then its like we open up the flood gates. All those years of growing curiosity with no real knowledge on alcohol because the subject for people under 21 is taboo. Its the same as sex. Total abstinence doesn’t work and it is so stupid to believe that when the clock strikes 12 on your 21st birthday, that you are magically capable of taking on the world, and alcohol, when 60 seconds ago you were not. We should give youth their adult rights in steps. Like at 16 or something, you are allowed to consume a certain amount of alcohol in your home, with your parents, but you can’t drive or go out anywhere for x number of hours afterwards. Then, at like 18, let them have more rights, and then at 20, let them have full drinking rights. That way you get gradual exposure and you don’t have raging drunks who just turned 21.
I believe that our country needs a new solution to underage drinking laws. In North Carolina and in any other state alone roughly 80% of all US citizens have consumed alcohol underage. These statistics prove that the laws that are currently in place are not effectively deterring underage drinking or the negative impacts on society caused by underage drinking. Perhaps we should consider other options that would help ensure a safer society while providing american citizen more freedom. I believe installing a new system similar to that of drivers ed, along with allowing citizens to apply for permits to drink underage, would offer far more effective results in reducing the tragedies related to underage drinking. Because oppression is not properly producing the desired results, perhaps we should use education and wisdom to properly inform those who choose to drink regardless of the laws, so that once they can prove themselves we can allow them to drink responsibly without criminalization. Those that abuse the responsibility of freedom should not cause the rest of us to be oppressed under the laws of the government.
When I grew uo the drinking age was 18 for beer and wine, 21 for hard liquor in NC. I have alsways beileived that is I am a legal adult at 18. Then by all rights, I should be able to drink. If you can join the military and die for your country, register to vote, be tried as an adult, get married without parental consentent along with many different things. Drinking a beer should be legal. If I am not allowed to drink until 21, then all of the above listed should be the same.
Morris Green says
I agree Bill. I never really understood the distinction between 18 and 21 that is made in matters like these.
ron H. says
what I find stupid is if Your caught drinking at the ages of 18 19 and 20 Your charged as an adukt for contributing to the delinquency of a Minor with You being said Minor, old enough to go to prison but to not drink that is an oxy moron
What are the laws in regards to a 19 year old drinking in the presence of a 21 year old. If caught, would the 21 year old be held responsible for supplying the alcohol to the younger adult? What if it could not be proven who supplied the alcohol? Is the 21 y/o still responsible for the 19 y/o’s drinking?
Hope that makes sense.
I think that the solution here lies in reaching the eyes and ears of minors, in a better way. Stricter policies and laws don’t really seem to have much effect on deterrence. The result in my opinion is just as much underage drinking, with more long term costly consequences for minors. There needs to be more education targeted for that age group, with verbiage that gets through to kids. I can see why lawmakers think that increasing the penalties and lowering the tolerances seems like the right move, but I don’t think it actually reduces the incidence within that age bracket.
I’d like to see more content like this video shared with and made available to minors so that they can hopefully make well informed decisions about the consequences of their choices, as opposed to making the wrist slaps harder. That would, in my opinion, be the better way to treat them like the adults we’re asking them to act like. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZiLFWtpv2Q
this is the dumbest law, if i feel like drinking, im drinking
We have a female teenager in our neighborhood that keeps asking for beer if she sees we have some, she is problematic in many areas but this is getting out of hand
Is bordering on harassment, and her grandparents ignore what she does.
Hmmm. You mean, you can vote, you can marry and you can die for you country at 18, but you cannot even drink beer and wine until 21???? In Canada it is 18 also for alcohol!
the law in north Carolina when I was in school was 18. You an raise the age all you want and a drinker will figure away to get alcohol . So just make it a nation wide age ND ENFORCE IT