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.
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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
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.