Legal Consequences of Providing Alcohol to Minors

Just as teens feel peer pressure to drink underage, parents often feel pressured to facilitate underage drinking or provide alcohol to their kids.

Parents and other adults come up with countless reasons for what’s ultimately a dangerous and consequential decision. Some argue, “At least if kids drink at my house, I can oversee it and keep them out of trouble.” Others might say, “Kids are going to find a way to get alcohol if they want it. If I provide it, at least they’re not using fake IDs or buying it from an untrustworthy source.”

The truth is there are serious legal consequences of providing alcohol to minors. Discussing these consequences with your child and talking to them about the risks of underage drinking can help steer young people away from alcohol altogether. Parents should express zero tolerance for underage drinking to keep their children healthy and safe.

Here are important things you need to know about buying alcohol for minors, the risks, and the potential legal consequences.

Possible Consequences: Fines and Legal Fees, Community Service, and Jail Time

Every state has different laws and punishments for adults convicted of providing alcohol to minors, and the charges associated with underage drinking vary depending on the severity of the situation.

In North Carolina, the following consequences apply to a person convicted of providing alcohol to minors, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety:

  • For the first offense, a person convicted of selling or providing alcohol to someone under the age of 21 must pay a $250 fine plus $100 in court costs and do 25 hours of community service.
  • A person convicted of aiding and abetting the sale of or providing alcohol to a minor must pay a $500 fine plus court costs and do 25 hours of community service work.
  • In addition to fines and court costs, those convicted of breaking the state alcohol laws may have to pay attorney’s fees and may not be employed by a business that holds an ABC permit for a period of two years following conviction.

Additional Legal Consequences if Underage Drinking Results in Injury or Death

The consequences above are the minimum legal ramifications of providing alcohol to kids or facilitating underage drinking at your house or any party. Consider the tragic scenario where an adult provides alcohol to a minor; the minor drinks the alcohol at a party with friends and then drives home under the influence of alcohol and crashes the car.

The person who provided the alcohol and the adult hosts of the party can face life-changing consequences. Just consider this example from 2014, when an 18-year-old who had been drinking at a wedding in North Carolina crashed his car and died.

There are, unfortunately, countless tragedies like the one above. More recently, in 2020, WSOC-TV reported a woman was sentenced to five years in prison for giving vodka to a 16-year-old from South Carolina who died of alcohol poisoning.

Aside from the legal consequences, consider the emotional despair of the families involved in these tragedies. Talk to your teen about the real risks of underage drinking to help them understand the zero-tolerance policy in your home.

What if an Adult Gave Alcohol to Your Child?

As is often the case with parenting, people will respond to this situation differently depending on the circumstances.

If you feel comfortable talking to the adult who gave your child alcohol — for example, if the adult who provided the alcohol is the parent of your child’s friend — you may consider expressing your zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking with the parent and discussing the risks and legal consequences with them.

Kids find creative ways to get alcohol. Teens buy alcohol online, they use fake IDs, or they find stores and gas stations with cashiers that don’t habitually verify their age. If a store clerk or some other adult you don’t know sold the alcohol to your child, contact law enforcement.

First and foremost, providing alcohol to minors is illegal. If you know an adult is providing alcohol to teens and allowing minors to drink on their property, and you want the behavior to stop without confronting the adult yourself, contact law enforcement. 

Talk to Your Child, and Talk Often

Parents can’t always control what goes on in other people’s homes or in their community, so the most effective way to prevent underage drinking is to talk openly and honestly about substance use with your children. Become their trusted source for the facts, so they can make educated and healthy choices when presented with the option to drink illegally.

Talk It Out NC has resources to help you start the conversation. Start here.