Alcohol is the number one most abused drug by teens. According to SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), nearly 60% of teens have had an alcoholic drink by age 18 and 11% of all alcoholic beverages sold in the U.S. are consumed by people between the ages of 12 and 20. With statistics like these, it’s obvious that teens have long been resourceful in locating places to get alcohol. Should we expect this to be different during a crisis like the Coronavirus pandemic? No, and in fact, new laws allowing for the sale of “to-go” cocktails during COVID may be further contributing to easy access to alcohol by minors.
Laws to allow the sale of “to-go”cocktails passed quickly in the spring in response to the need to support struggling bars and restaurants. As of this past summer thirty-three states had passed such laws. This was a dramatic increase from just two states prior to the pandemic. The exact wording and parameters of the law vary from state to state, and for many of these states, the law is set to expire within a year or two. However, at the end of June, Iowa became the first state to permanently legalize “to-go” cocktails and now other states have as well. More will likely follow suit.
We know that these laws are impacting teens as illustrated by this statement from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). One month after legalizing the sale of “to-go” cocktails, California’s ABC issued a memo stating that “minors are routinely able to purchase alcohol through delivery from restaurants,” and easily have it delivered right to their door.
Since it is apparent that another avenue has been opened to teens who are looking to purchase alcohol, what can we do to help keep our kids safe? Parents of teens should keep a close eye on food and drink that is delivered to their home. Even alcoholic drinks may be delivered in standard “to-go” cups and can be easily mistaken for lemonade or soda. Also, monitor receipts, especially if your teen has access to a shared account.
An essential piece of ensuring that “to-go” cocktails don’t end up in the wrong hands comes down to what restrictions are written into the law. Here are some suggested restrictions:
- Require delivery staff to check or scan identification to verify the buyer is at least 21 years old
- Require delivery staff to be at least 21 years old
- Limit the amount of alcohol that can be delivered in one transaction
- Restrict alcohol delivery to specific days of the week and times of the day
- Hold third-party delivery companies accountable for age verification
- Clearly define and enforce the consequences for non-compliance of retailers.
For a responsible adult, ordering a margarita with Mexican take-out sounds like a fun and fairly benign idea. However, it is clear that without proper regulation this can become a dangerous concept very quickly. We need to build responsible alcohol laws now, so that our kids and those that come after them are not negatively impacted by relaxed practices and enforcement.
Written by: Katie Gallagher-Director of Education, Candor Health Education