Minors and Alcohol: A Deadly Combination

Teenagers standing around drinking alcohol and smoking

On Jan. 15, 2015, a 19-year-old San Diego man was walking drunk and subsequently hit by multiple vehicles. His blood alcohol concentration was .23.

On March 27, 2015, a local 18-year-old was drinking and then intentionally drowned himself in a lake. His alcohol level was .19.

On October 10, 2015, a 20-year-old San Diego man was driving drunk. He lost control of his vehicle, ran off the roadway, overturned and died. His blood alcohol was also .19.

The circumstances behind their deaths were all different, but they had two things in common. The victims were all under 21 and had been drinking before they died.

They were not old enough to legally drink, yet they were able to get alcohol. Where did they get it? Who gave it to them?


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 is reminding adults that it is against the law to host underage drinking parties and to allow minors to drink.

“We are urging adults to act responsibly. Giving alcohol to a minor is against the law,” said Alfredo Aguirre, director for HHSA’s Behavioral Health Services division. “Providing alcohol to minors is not a healthy thing to do and can lead to criminal penalties or, worse, the loss of a loved one.”

Last year, 10 people under 21 had alcohol in their system at the time of death, according to the County Medical Examiner’s Office. Their ages ranged from 14 to 20 years. Their blood alcohol levels ranged from .02 to .23. 

“Alcohol-related deaths of minors are 100 percent preventable,” Aguirre added.

Every local municipality and the unincorporated area have adopted “social host” ordinances, making it illegal to provide alcohol or host underage drinking parties anywhere in San Diego County. A “social host” is anyone who knowingly, or should have known, there was underage drinking occurring 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.

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.

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