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session, or consumption of alcohol and for the use of false identification to purchase alcohol. In 1993, the President’s Commission on Model State Drug Laws (1993) recommended that states prohibit all of these activities. Moreover, although it is generally illegal to provide alcohol to minors, some states allow parents or guardians to give alcohol to minors or for underage drinking to take place in a private residence or private club. These weaknesses can compromise the effectiveness of minimum age laws.

Recommendation 9-1: The minimum drinking age laws of each state should prohibit

  • purchase or attempted purchase, possession, and consumption of alcoholic beverages by persons under 21;

  • possession of and use of falsified or fraudulent identification to purchase or attempt to purchase alcoholic beverages;

  • provision of any alcohol to minors by adults, except to their own children in their own residences; and

  • underage drinking in private clubs and establishments.


Young people obtain alcohol from a variety of sources; see Tables 9-2 and 9-3. Parties, friends, and adult purchasers are the most frequent sources of alcohol among college students and older adolescents (Harrison et al., 2000; Preusser et al., 1995; Schwartz et al., 1998; Wagenaar et al., 1996), and younger adolescents also often obtain alcohol from family members. Use of friends under 21 and adult strangers as sources for alcohol appears to increase with age while reports of parents or other family members as sources decrease with age. Thus, in a study in Minnesota (Harrison et al., 2000), 39 percent of drinkers in the sixth grade, 69 percent of drinkers in the ninth grade, and 72 percent of drinkers in the twelfth grade reported getting alcohol from friends within the past 30 days. The comparable figures for family members as sources for alcohol were 49 percent, 29 percent, and 18 percent, respectively. Purchase of alcohol was relatively low in this sample, with only 8 percent, 8 percent, and 9 percent of drinkers at the three grade levels, respectively, reporting buying alcohol from stores. Similarly, another Minnesota survey (Wagenaar et al., 1996) found that 46 percent of ninth graders, 60 percent of twelfth graders, and 68 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds obtained alcohol on their last drinking occasion from a friend over 21, 29 percent, 29 percent, and 10 percent of these age groups, respectively, obtained alcohol from a friend under 21. Only 3 percent, 9 percent, and 14 percent of respondents in each age group, respectively, reported purchasing alcohol; 27 percent, 6 percent, and 11 percent, respectively, obtained alcohol from home.

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