Regulating Youth Access to Alcohol

As a general rule, regulations on availability in developed countries single out young people as specifically subject to restrictions on purchases and use. As noted above, MLDA laws are an effective although permeable barrier to alcohol use among underage drinkers. With sufficient motivation underage drinkers can and do obtain alcoholic beverages. Early PRC research indicated that between 30% and 70% of purchase attempts by underage drinkers at off-premise outlets were likely to be successful, but that consistent enforcement efforts can easily drive these figures much lower.1,2 For this reason, preventing alcohol sales to minors through enforcement efforts is a key feature of effective community-based alcohol prevention programs.3

Since the MLDA barrier is permeable, PRC researchers are also interested in the extent to which other regulations may impact underage drinking and problems.4 This area of research is of special interest because efforts to circumvent proscriptions on alcohol purchases and sales by young people are similar in many ways to efforts of the general population to circumvent many drug control laws. Thus, much like the illegal drug market, underage alcohol use is linked to access through informal familial and social networks.5 The most common sources of alcohol among underage drinkers are through the home and friends,6 underage purchases of alcohol are more likely where competition among outlets is greatest (where outlets are densely clustered)7 network effects appear to mediate or moderate effects related to outlet densities,8,9 and densities are related to drinking and drunken driving among youth.10,11

References cited:

  1. Grube J.W. Preventing sales of alcohol to minors: Results from a community trial. Addiction 92(Suppl. 2):S251-S260, 1997. PMID:92311448
  2. Paschall, M.J.; Grube, J.W.; Black, C.; Flewelling, R.L.; Ringwalt, C.L.; & Biglan, A. (2007). Alcohol outlet characteristics and alcohol sales to youth: Results of alcohol purchase surveys in 45 Oregon communities. Prevention Science, 8, 153-159. PMCID: PMC1933529
  3. Holder H.D.; Gruenewald P.J.; Ponicki, W.R.; et al. Effect of community-based interventions on high risk drinking and alcohol-related injuries. JAMA Journal of the American Medical Association 284(18):2341-2347, 2000. PMID:11066184
  4. Grube, J.W. (2009). Environmental approaches to preventing adolescent drinking. In L. Scheier (ed.), Handbook of Drug Use Etiology: Theory, Methods, and Empirical Findings (pp. 493-509). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  5. LaScala, E.A.; Freisthler, B.; and Gruenewald, P.J. Population ecologies of drug use, drinking and related problems. In: Stockwell, T.; Gruenewald, P.J.; Toumbourou, J.; and Loxley, W., Eds. Preventing Harmful Substance Use: The Evidence Base for Policy and Practice. New York, NY: John Wiley, 2005, pp. 67-78.
  6. Paschall, M.J.; Grube, J.W., Black, C.A; and Ringwalt, C.L. Is commercial alcohol availability related to adolescent alcohol sources and alcohol use? Findings from a multi-level study. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41:168-174, 2007. PMCID: PMC2213632
  7. Freisthler B.; Gruenewald P.J.; Treno, A.J.; and Lee, J. Evaluating alcohol access and the alcohol environment in neighborhood areas. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 27:477-484, 2003. PMID: 12658114
  8. Chen, M.J.; Gruenewald, P.J.; and Remer, L.G. Does alcohol outlet density affect youth access to alcohol? Journal of Adolescent Health 44:582-589, 2009. PMCID: PMC2736854
  9. Chen, M.J.; Grube, J.W.; and Gruenewald, P.J. Community alcohol outlet density and underage drinking. Addiction 105:270-278, 2010. PMCID: PMC2810108
  10. Treno A.J.; Grube, J.W.; and Martin, S.E. Alcohol availability as a predictor of youth drinking & driving: A hierarchical analysis of survey and archival data. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 27:835-840, 2003. PMID:12766629
  11. Grube, J.W. and Stewart, K. Preventing impaired driving using alcohol policy. Traffic Injury Prevention 5:199-207, 2004. PMID:15276920