• Center for Problem oriented policing

Summary of Responses to Underage Drinking

The table below summarizes the responses to underage drinking, the mechanism by which they are intended to work, the conditions under which they ought to work best, and some factors you should consider before implementing a particular response. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.

General Considerations for an Effective Response Strategy
Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If…Considerations
1Reducing the community's overall alcohol consumption Changes community norms about drinking…multiple responses are used simultaneouslyMay not address the specific reasons for, locations of, and problems associated with underage drinking
2Creating community coalitions Enlists multiple stakeholders with specific areas of expertise; reduces resistance; establishes joint ownership of the problem…resistant stakeholders are also includedRequires a high level of project management to sustain interest over time
3Using a multifaceted, comprehensive approach Addresses many of the known risk factors; prevents displacement…responses are implemented as designed and are properly sequencedDifficult to isolate a specific intervention's effect; requires coordination; a large number of options can be overwhelming
4Understanding your state's laws regarding underage drinking Ensures that responses are appropriately targeted and can withstand scrutiny in court…police review the laws in consultation with the local prosecutorFrequently amended and updated, so a regular review is required
5Avoiding overwhelming the court system Increases the likelihood of a quick response…meaningful alternative sanctions are in placeEffect depends on the impact of criminal versus noncriminal sanctions among the target group

Specific Responses to Underage Drinking

Responses That Target the Motivation to Drink

Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If…Considerations
6Implementing a "social norms" program Corrects misperceptions about the proportion of peers who drink; uses adolescents' desire to conform to reduce drinking…the message is simple, memorable, truthful, and reinforcedGives the message that some underage drinking is acceptable; could encourage those who drink less than the norm to increase their consumption in order to fit in
7Raising underage drinkers' awareness of their behavior's impact on other people


Uses peer pressure to encourage underage drinkers to control their behavior…victimized students are empowered, specific statistics that show widespread impact are used, and additional information resources are providedRisk of reinforcing a "party school" image; risk that nondrinkers will be ostracized if they are not sufficiently empowered
8Providing treatment or feedback Provides personalized feedback on the level of risk underage drinkers face; provides them with skills to help break their drinking habits…it is not seen as punishment, is nonjudgmental, and provides alternative ways of behavingThose who most need intervention may be the ones who don't show up for or drop out of treatment

Responses That Target Commercial Access to Alcohol

Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If…Considerations
9Improving the ability to detect fake IDs Eliminates a tool commonly used to obtain alcohol…servers/sellers are trained, have good reference materials and good lighting, and are supported by managementLong-term effect is limited unless the original source of the IDs is addressed
10Implementing "Responsible Beverage Service and Sales Training" programs Restricts access to sources of alcohol; provides skills and incentives for servers/sellers to comply with the law…laws are enforced, the training is mandatory, and following procedures protects businesses from dramshop liabilityIf not mandatory, establishments may lose business to places that do not comply; requires police and management enforcement to be taken seriously
11Enforcing minimum-age purchase laws Reinforces establishment-level procedures to refuse service to those under 21…compliance checks are random, ongoing, and conducted on a large number of retail outlets; and administrative penalties apply to both the server/seller and the manager/ownerCan be expensive in jurisdictions with large numbers of outlets
12Conducting undercover "shoulder tap" operations Fear of sanctions deters adults from buying alcohol for minors…the undercover decoy is chosen carefully, and the operation is highly publicized both before and after it occursCan be complicated and expensive; if not properly designed, it can be vulnerable to entrapment claims
13Checking ID at bars and nightclubs Reinforces establishment-level procedures to refuse service to those under 21…checks are random and ongoing, fake IDs are seized, and meaningful sanctions are applied to both the minor and the establishmentNeed to target a wide range of establishments to be seen as fair
14Applying graduated sanctions to retailers that break the law Holds retailers accountable, with increasingly punitive sanctions for subsequent infractions; affects profitability…sanctions are administratively focused, and penalties are swift and certainCriminal penalties can be complex and time-consuming; need to target a wide range of establishments to be seen as fair

Responses That Target Social Access to Alcohol

Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If…Considerations
15Training adults about "social host liability"Fear of sanctions deters adults from buying alcohol for minors…laws are accompanied by widespread education and awareness efforts, and enforcement is consistentNot likely to be effective without enforcement
16Requiring keg registration Allows police to identify the retailer that furnished alcohol to minors…it is mandatory, and a fine is imposed for tampering with a tag or sticker on a kegIf registration is not mandatory, establishments that voluntarily comply may lose business to those that don't

Responses That Target Locations Where Drinking Occurs

Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If…Considerations
17Developing house party guidelines, registration forms, and pre-party walk- through procedures Provides useful advice about controlling house parties…a responsible adult who is motivated to obey the law is in charge of the partyIs voluntary; despite good intentions, the party may still get out of control and require police intervention
18Setting up hotlines to gather information Helps police to identify potentially problematic party locations…the hotline is staffed by nonpolice personnel, and the number is well-publicized and easy to rememberNot all information may be accurate or useful; not all parties will be discovered this way
19Deploying party patrols Fear of sanctions deters hosts from having parties; parties where underage drinking occurs are dispersed…patrols are consistent, routine, and highly publicized; and dispersal is safe and orderlyCan be cost-prohibitive and time-consuming; diverts officers from other duties
20Imposing fines for each underage person drinking at a party Increases financial consequences of hosting a party where underage guests are drinking…fines are imposed after the initiative has been publicized and warnings have been issued, and there is significant public supportMay be viewed as excessively punitive
21Using landlord-tenant ordinances and nuisance abatement procedures Uses civil remedies to target properties with a history of violations…multiple agencies are involved, and all interactions and violations have been documentedLikely to require a significant time investment
22Restricting alcohol use at popular outdoor venues and community events Adjusts community norms regarding drinking; makes it harder for underage drinkers to obtain alcohol…limitations are strictly enforced for all drinkersRequires significant manpower to enforce at big community events
23Sponsoring alcohol-free events Decreases reliance on alcohol-centered events as a means of socializing…the events are scheduled for the times, days, and locations that have historically been the most problematic, and the events are highly publicizedNeeds to target those who would otherwise be drinking to have an impact on the overall underage drinking problem
24Developing campus policies to deter underage drinking Holds students accountable, using school-based disciplinary procedures...the policies send a consistent message about alcohol's role on campus, problem drinking at Greek organizations is targeted, and students are involved in policy developmentRequires support from diverse groups of stakeholders; likely to encounter some opposition

Responses That Focus on the Consequences for Underage Drinking

Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If…Considerations
25Applying administrative sanctions rather than criminal penalties Holds offenders accountable with sanctions that can be quickly applied…the alternative sanctions are meaningful, and the community supports alternative sentencingMay require the creation of new programs and sanctions, or the expansion of existing ones
26Applying informal social control Enlists people with important relationships with youths to encourage them to change their behavior…the behavior is sanctioned appropriately, and the youths are concerned about others' opinionsRequires knowledge of the significant others in minors' lives; requires cooperation from significant others

Responses With Limited Effectiveness

Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If…Considerations
27Using school-based education, awareness, or values- clarification programs Assumes that knowing the facts leads to better choices Information alone is usually insufficient to produce a change in behavior
28Launching consequence-focused information campaigns Assumes that knowing about the negative consequences will deter dangerous or illegal behavior Information often stands in stark contrast to young people's experience and thus has little credibility; young people tend to deny their own vulnerability; it does not address the motivations for drinking