5 Penalties You Face for Giving Alcohol to Minors

Minors are not allowed to buy alcohol, yet they have easy access to it. Where do they get if from? Adults.

Thousands of college, high school and middle school students are or will soon be going on spring break, a time when underage drinking goes up. In an effort to keep alcohol away from minors, the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) is reminding adults that it is against the law to host underage drinking parties and to allow minors to drink.

“Minors drink because they get alcohol from parents, older siblings, relatives and friends who are willing to give alcohol to them,” said Alfredo Aguirre, director for HHSA’s Behavioral Health Services division. “Minors drink because there are people willing to accept a bribe and buy them alcohol or store clerks fail to check IDs.”

According to the latest California Healthy Kids Survey, 13 percent of 7th graders, 24 percent of 9th graders and 33 percent of 11th graders had consumed alcohol in the past 30 days. Furthermore, 6 percent, 14 percent and 22 percent of those respective groups of students indicated they had binged on alcohol, defined as drinking five or more drinks in a row to become intoxicated quickly.

“Underage drinking is dangerous and binge drinking even more so. Consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time can result in alcohol poisoning which can be fatal,” Aguirre added.

A study from the American Medical Association shows underage drinking is a factor in nearly half of all teen car crashes, the leading cause of death among teenagers. Fights, assaults and sexual assaults also occur.

Every municipality in the county and its unincorporated area have adopted “social host” ordinances, making it illegal to host underage drinking parties anywhere in San Diego County. A “social host” is anyone who knowingly, or should have known, there was an underage drinking party on property they own, lease or otherwise control.

What this means is that if you allow a minor to drink, you could be:

  • Cited or arrested
  • Fined $1,000 or more
  • Sent to jail for up to six months
  • Required to do up to 32 hours of community service
  • Billed for law enforcement services

Local law enforcement agencies have increased enforcement of social host laws and have issued hundreds of citations in the last few years, like this one.

“Giving alcohol to a minor can lead to criminal penalties or, worse, the loss of a loved one,” Aguirre said.

To report underage drinking parties, contact your local police department, the Sheriff’s Department at (858) 565-5200 or Crime Stoppers Anonymous Tip Line at (888) 580-8477.

Parents who suspect their child might have a drinking problem are encouraged to call the County Access and Crisis Line at (888) 724-7240.

More Social Host Ordinance information from San Diego County Sheriff

José A. Álvarez is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact