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National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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Minimum Drinking Age

Definition - What does Minimum Drinking Age mean?

The Definition

Minimum drinking age is the youngest age for a person to be legally allowed to consume or purchase alcoholic beverages. Though all countries have different minimum drinking ages and rules alongside them, in all 50 states in the United States of America, the minimum drinking age is identified as 21 years old. 

How the U.S. Chose 21 Years Old as the Minimum Drinking Age

Up until 1984, rules on alcohol purchase and consumption, as well as the minumum drinking age, varied from state to state. However, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 ruled that no one was to sell alcohol to anyone under the age of 21, and minors under the age of 21 were prohibited from consuming alcohol until they reached their 21st birthday. In many cases, bars, social clubs, or places where alcohol is sold do not allow people into the facility unless they are over the age of 21, as to limit temptations of law breaking for both the seller and the consumer. However, in private settings, this law is not enforced as strictly, except in states like Pennsylvania. Depending on the state, alcohol consumption for a minor can be allowed if a parent is present or if the consumption is for religious purposes. 

Penalties for Underage Drinking

If a minor, someone who is under the age of 21, is caught by authorities while they are illegally consuming alcohol, they can face some trouble with the law. Also, if someone is caught serving alcohol to someone who is considered a minor, they can also face charges as well. Most often, these people will face gross misdemeanor charges, and fines up to $5,000 for breaking this law. In other cases, they could also face some jail time, too, up to a year in jail or more.

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