Silver Chips Online

Obtaining alcohol underage

How Blazers get past the law

By Natasha Prados, Online Managing Editor
February 14, 2006
Where only first names appear, names have been changed to protect the identities of the sources.

Shoving his hands deep into the pocket of his sweatshirt, Cornelius, a senior, strolls towards the liquor store, doing his best to appear nonchalant.

Before entering the store, Cornelius and his friends held a rigorous debate about who could best pass for 21 years old - taking hair cut, shoes and clothing style into account - but as soon as Cornelius walks up to the check-out, he is promptly asked for an ID.
Elena Pinsky

Cornelius, still three years shy of 21, opts to play dumb. He tells the clerk he was not aware an ID was necessary for purchasing alcohol and leaves both the store and the 30-pack he intended to buy.

Once outside, Cornelius, still eager to obtain some beer, immediately calls a friend who has bought alcohol at the store before. Rusty, also a senior, arrives shortly and within minutes has successfully bought the same 30-pack Cornelius left sitting on the counter.

Cornelius is pleased but slightly frustrated at the ease with which Rusty achieves the purchase. "He didn't look any older than me but pulled the same thing [that I tried] off," Cornelius says.

Cornelius and Rusty are just two Blazers obtaining alcohol underage and illegally. In an informal survey of 100 Blazers conducted on Jan. 26 during 5A lunch, of the 67 percent who said they had consumed alcohol, 36 percent said they obtained their alcohol from friends, 12 percent had gotten it from parents, 14 percent had gotten it from other relatives, two percent had bought alcohol themselves and three percent obtained their alcohol through other means.

Easy acquisition

Not just at Blair, but nationwide, a growing number of teens are obtaining alcohol without difficulty from friends and family, according to a Press Release by the American Medical Association (AMA). According to the AMA, two out of three teens say it is easy to get alcohol from their homes without their parents' knowledge and 40 percent say they can get alcohol from a friend's parent with that parent's consent.

Jorge, a sophomore, employed many of these techniques until he stopped drinking "recreationally." He has found "better things to do" with his time, like playing sports.

Still, the cessation had nothing to do with a lack of alcohol. "It was just available," says Jorge, who often acquired alcohol from his older brother, older students and friends. He says that getting alcohol "depends [on] who you know [and] who you're with."

Sara, also a sophomore, agrees. "If you have the right connections and know a lot of people who can get alcohol," obtaining it is easy, she says.

Montgomery County police officer Jim Redd reluctantly admits what Sara and Jorge already know. "If teens want to get alcohol, they can get alcohol. It's not difficult," he says.

Although Redd says most liquor stores will not risk selling alcohol to minors (an offense punishable by law), sometimes when teens look older or have a fake ID, clerks can be fooled. Jay Yo, a manager at Piney Branch Beer and Wine, has taken classes to receive training for identifying illegitimate IDs. He says he can tell whether or not customers have a real ID, and if they do not, he asks them to leave.

Usually the teens oblige, but they often still get alcohol, Yo says. Some simply "ask somebody old enough outside to buy for them," according to Yo. Others, like Cornelius, call a friend. Maria, a junior, does exactly that. Since most of her friends are 21 already, she just asks them to buy for her.

Although he says he can always get someone to buy for him, Jamal, a senior, prefers not to purchase his alcohol. He feels purchasing alcohol is becoming too difficult. "Storeowners are becoming more conscious," he says.

Instead, Jamal opts only to drink at parties, where liquor is already at hand, or get alcohol from his and his friends' homes. Jamal's main source for alcohol is his "parents' liquor cabinet and friends' liquor cabinets."

Putting it in perspective

After prohibition in the 1920's, when alcohol was banned, the minimum legal drinking age in most states was 21, according to the AMA. As alcohol became more socially accepted, 29 states lowered the minimum legal drinking age to 18, 19 or 20 years of age between 1970 and 1975.

After several studies found that a lower drinking age resulted in more motor vehicle crashes, citizen advocacy groups convinced 16 of the 29 states to reinstate 21 as the minimum legal drinking age by 1983, according to the AMA.

In 1984, the national government enacted the Uniform Drinking Act, which mandated that states with a minimum legal drinking age below the age of 21 would receive reduced federal funding, according to the AMA.

While the AMA has found that a higher drinking age is successful in preventing alcohol-related injuries and deaths, teens still seek and obtain alcohol underage. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, teen drinking can be caused by a number of factors, including: curiosity, a need to fit in with friends, a lack of parental involvement and a desire to escape problems.

Teens are more likely to initiate drinking if their parents have a favorable attitude towards alcohol, if they have older siblings or if they are children of alcoholics, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Solutions to underage drinking

While Rusty is not opposed to obtaining alcohol illegally, he feels it should not be necessary. "If alcohol was legal kids wouldn't have to drink in secret," he says.

Rusty says that having to drink surreptitiously results in potential dangers for teens, such as drinking and driving. Cornelius adds that the illegality of underage drinking can make teens afraid to take their friends to the hospital in the case of hazardous amounts of alcohol consumption.

Cornelius feels that 21 is an arbitrary, somewhat unfair age for a drinking law. "To have something be legal at one age and not at another age is unjust," he says, noting that he can serve in the armed forces but is unable to consume an alcoholic beverage. "I can vote and fight for my country but I can't have a drink," Cornelius says.

Redd is less concerned with what is fair than with what is safe. In his opinion, the tragedies which result from underage drinking cannot be remedied by altering the law. "Alcohol and teenagers don't mix," he notes, stating the combination is a "recipe for disaster."

In Redd's opinion, the solution is to enforce drinking laws more effectively. He thinks that the consequences for drinking underage should be more severe, such as teens having their licenses revoked, even if they have not been driving.

Making teenagers aware of the consequences of their actions is also vital to lowering the rate of underage alcohol consumption, according to Redd. Ultimately, though, he knows that the responsibility of staying sober lies with teenagers. "Kids have to make a choice of what's right and wrong," he says.