How to Control Teen Parties and Prevent Drinking of Alcohol

New York’s State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) recently advised parents about the dangers of underage drinking at residential parties. To be blunt, minors who attend parties where alcohol is available are at risk for becoming intoxicated, regardless of whether the actual imbibing of alcohol has been sanctioned by party hosts.
Minors who drink alcohol at celebrations are then at risk for alcohol-related overdoses, injuries, motor vehicle accidents, and death.

The problem is pervasive. Over one-half of all high school students will have taken a drink of alcohol during any given one-month period. Most get the alcohol from home or from someone they know. Almost one-third of high school seniors will engage in binge drinking (five or more drinks in any given period) in any two-week period. Given the major role that parents play in shaping the actions of their children, they are in the best position to regulate drinking behavior and prevent tragedy.

State officials seek to remind parents that tragedy resulting from teen drinking at parties can be avoided. Most importantly, minors under the age of 21 should not be permitted to drink alcohol, whether they are under the supervision of an adult or not. However, even the most well-intentioned adult host can quickly land him or herself in hot water if underage guests get their hands on alcohol. Even when hosts notify underage participants that they are not permitted to drink at the party, failure to actually supervise the possession of alcohol by party guests often leads to tragedy, as many teens are likely to disregard the warning and drink anyway. Like waiving a red flag in front of a bull, placing alcohol within reach of teen party participants is just asking for trouble.

Given that teens often prefer to keep to themselves at functions, largely to avoid having to hang with the boring adults, a host may not realize that minors have been drinking alcohol until it is too late. The consequences can, indeed, be tragic.

Younger people are typically smaller in size than an average adult and become intoxicated much more quickly than the normal of-age party-goer. Alcohol poisoning (the inability of the body to safely process alcohol as it is ingested) among teen drinkers is very common, as they do not have the experience with alcohol to know when to stop drinking. Alcohol poisoning, or overdose, can lead to permanent organ damage or death.

Another risk for hosting parties where teens will be in attendance is motor vehicle incidents. The most obvious consequence of teen drinking at parties is that one will get behind the wheel and cause an accident. Another consequence is that he or she will be driving one or more friends, thus subjecting others to serious injury or death.

While state authorities have little control over whether parents and guardians will allow teens to drink at parties, a behavior that could subject the adults to criminal and civil liability, the state can take steps to ensure that law enforcement is prepared to handle the ramifications of teen drinking.

New York’s OASAS has aggressively implemented the Party Patrol and Controlled Party Dispersal training program with an eye toward reducing alcohol abuse, driving under the influence, and underage drinking. Using prevention professionals, the PPCPD has trained over one thousand law enforcement officers on how to safely break up underage drinking gatherings at parties, in college dorms and frat houses, in residential settings, during outdoor parties, and in large concert arenas. Law enforcement agencies use intelligence gathering, work with community leaders, and disseminate information through media outlets in order to stop teen drinking. Officials believe, and research has shown, that young people are less likely to engage in underage drinking if they think there is a possibility that they will be caught doing so by police. Research has also shown that parents will be more likely to adopt a zero-tolerance policy for teen drinking at parties and at home if they believe that they could be held accountable, either criminally or civilly, for underage drinking.

Lawmakers in New York have also started holding social hosts accountable for teen drinking incidents. Nearly fifty local governments across New York have “social host” laws that impose liability for serving alcohol or drugs to teens at home. There are also penalties for those supply alcohol to minors for a fee.

For party planning, officials recommend that adults establish firm regulations and expectations prior to party day and to make sure they are clearly understood by attendees, especially teen children and their friends. Obviously, the most important rule is that teen guests cannot ingest alcohol or other drugs before, during or after the party. Hosts should have a plan in place to monitor the grounds during the event, and to ensure that off-limit areas cannot be accessed. In addition, teens who arrive at the event driving their own vehicles should turn in keys to the host and be expected to interact with the host prior to key return, to ensure that he or she is ok to drive. Hosts are also reminded to have plenty of non-alcoholic beverages available.