How Teens Buy Alcohol Online: A Warning for Parents

A picture of wine bottles and alcohol on a computer screen.
Picture of wine bottles and alcohol on a computer screen.

It feels like things used to be so simple. It wasn’t that long ago when a parent’s biggest worries about underage drinking came from the idea of a fake ID or their child getting alcohol from other friends or parents. Now that the internet has made online shopping the norm, many teens are going online to purchase alcohol underage.

At first, the idea of policing the internet for alcohol sales may seem like an insurmountable task. The truth is that parents will play a crucial role in curtailing underage alcohol sales online. Here’s what parents need to know about how teens can buy alcohol online, and what they can do about it.

Sites Like eBay Gave Teens Easy Access to Alcohol

The idea of teens going online to purchase alcohol underage is hardly anything new. It’s been happening for a long time, and it’s only in the last decade or so that people have started to take notice of the alarming trend.

A 2012 study conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill tested to see if eight people between the ages of 18 and 20 could purchase alcohol online while underage. The study found that 45 percent of attempts to purchase alcohol online underage were successful. While things have gotten a bit more difficult in the years since, the idea of purchasing alcohol online remains a major concern for parents across the country.

Following the UNC-Chapel Hill study and a highly publicized “20/20” report on how teens were using that platform to get around the system, the online auction site began removing alcohol listings. There are now much stricter rules for those looking to sell alcohol on the site.

These restrictions include an approval process to become a licensed seller of wine in addition to requiring an alcohol license. Even then, eBay alcohol sales are largely relegated to collectible wines, and the company policy is to not allow for the listing of alcohol to ensure it is following the statutes of individual states.

Purchasing Alcohol Online in North Carolina is Illegal

It is illegal to purchase alcohol online in North Carolina without a wholesaler’s permit. That means that the only people who can (or at least should) be able to purchase alcohol online are restaurants and businesses that sell alcohol to restaurants or other retail outlets.

In fact, many online sites will not even allow the purchase of alcohol for addresses in North Carolina. However, teenagers are resourceful and find other ways to buy booze online.

Teens are Finding New Ways to Purchase Alcohol Online

Of course, just as parents and governments closed one loophole, teens swiftly began finding other options. Now, underage teens are looking to other sites like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist to purchase alcohol. The straightforward transaction process, combined with a lack of regulation and oversight, can make an already fraught situation even more dangerous, especially if it involves meeting with a stranger.

Thankfully, many states are already taking steps to further curtail online alcohol sales and keep our kids safe. The Attorneys General of 46 different states signed a letter calling for vendors to take a stronger stance by preventing underage children from using their platforms to purchase alcohol.

Talk to Your Teen About the Dangers of Underage Drinking

The dangerous effects of underage drinking are well established. Research by the Centers for Disease Control reveals that excessive underage drinking causes more than 4,300 deaths each year. By reducing easy access to alcohol, these numbers can hopefully be curtailed.

Ultimately, parental vigilance is the best weapon in the fight against underage drinking. By taking the time to start the conversation about underage drinking, parents can keep their children informed about the risks and dangers associated with purchasing alcohol online. Take the pledge today and commit with your child to stop underage drinking.