As COVID-19 restrictions begin to loosen and larger gatherings take place, pre-pandemic concerns about underage drinking are returning. Communities are examining ways to curb this issue, including enacting local ordinances regarding social hosting.
What is a “Social Host”?
While the exact definition of a social host can differ from state to state, in general it’s considered to be a person who:
- furnishes another with alcohol in a social setting and not as a licensed vendor
- has no special relationship, such as an employer, with the guest
- serves alcohol or condones the consumption of alcohol on property that the host controls
- may be either an adult or a minor
The National Minimum Drinking Age Act was enacted in 1984 and set the minimum drinking age in the United States at 21. To comply with federal law, all states prohibit persons under 21 years of age from purchasing or publicly possessing alcoholic beverages. But that doesn’t mean that minors don’t find ways to get their hands on alcoholic beverages.
The Problem with Underage Drinking
Statistics reference by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that an average of 14% of high school students participated in binge drinking, 5% of eligible drivers drove after consuming alcohol, and 17% rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.
The CDC goes on to suggest that underage drinking can cause an array of dangerous and problematic issues, including higher rates of absenteeism in schools, adverse social behaviors, increased risk of suicide, changes in brain development, and alcohol poisoning.
Social Hosting Liability
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), “thirty-one states allow social hosts to be civilly liable for injuries or damages caused by underage drinkers. Thirty states and the Virgin Islands have criminal penalties for adults who host or permit parties with underage drinking to occur in the adults’ homes or in premises under the adults’ control. These social host statutory provisions do not apply to licensed establishments such as restaurants, bars, and liquor stores, which are covered by dram shop laws.”
However, Social Host Liability state laws require the burden of injury or death before action can be taken either criminally or civilly. Enacting Social Host ordinances can provide local governments with options for dealing with non-criminal consequences of underage drinking, such as costs for emergency services and law enforcement. Such ordinances can establish fines, and they can address hosts who may or may not be the parent. It could even be the minor themselves, a sibling or cousin, friend, or friend’s parent.
Sending a Message
Enacting Social Host ordinances can send a clear and enforceable message that hosting underage drinking parties is not acceptable in the community. They empower concerned citizens to report suspected underage drinking parties while providing law enforcement with a tool to address those parties.
When law enforcement arrives at a gathering where underage drinking is occurring, it can be difficult to determine who actually provided the alcohol. This is largely the premise of the state liability laws: to target those who furnish alcohol to underage individuals. Social host ordinances offer a simpler, practical approach, focusing on the location where the drinking occurs. This puts the accountability on property owners for the illicit use of alcohol on their property, regardless of whether they furnished the alcohol.
Useful examples from the eCode360® Library
If your community is interested in legislating about social hosting, here are some useful examples that can be found in our eCode360 Library:
Updating your municipal code is vitally important
As local governments continue to adjust and transform digitally to the ever-shifting needs of the COVID-19 era, keeping municipal codes updated has become more essential than ever. It’s important to sustain orderly and accessible knowledge of the most current regulations and resolutions in a timely manner.
We encourage our clients to submit code updates as soon as possible to make sure constituents and local government officials are always referencing and working with the most up-to-date resources. Clients can send legislation to [email protected].
Best practices for managing your codification budget
Many of our client communities find it helpful to be on a code update schedule to help manage their budgets throughout the year. Our Client Care Advocates can work with you and explain the options and benefits of scheduled code updates. Give them a call at 800.836.8834 or send an email to [email protected]. They’d be happy to help or answer any other codification questions you might have.
- Merriam-Webster Social Host Definition
- Social Hosting: Is it really worth it to host a teen party? (Psychology Today)
- The 1984 National Minimum Drinking Age Act (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)
- National Minimum Drinking Age Act (Wikipedia)
- Underage Drinking (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Social Host Liability for Underage Drinking Statutes (National Conference of State Legislatures)
- What is Social Hosting? (Behavioral Health Solutions of South Texas)
- Social host laws (University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute)
- Ellisville passes social hosting ordinance to address underage drinking (The Lancer Feed)
- eCode360 Library