Social host laws

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Expert Opinion

Strategies with this rating are recommended by credible, impartial experts but have limited research documenting effects; further research, often with stronger designs, is needed to confirm effects.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Date last updated
Community in Action

Social host liability laws hold private property owners who provide alcohol or allow its provision to minors or obviously intoxicated individuals on their property liable if someone is killed or injured as a result of the provision of that alcohol. Social host liability varies from state to state, and can take the form of criminal or civil actions.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Reduced impaired driving

  • Reduced excessive drinking

  • Reduced underage drinking

What does the research say about effectiveness?

Social host liability laws are a suggested strategy to reduce drunk driving, heavy episodic drinking, and underage drinking1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Available evidence suggests that these policies may reduce heavy episodic drinking and drunk driving3, 5, particularly among adolescents who already drink6. One study of 18-20 year olds indicates that such laws are more likely to affect drunk driving than heavy drinking4. States with social host civil liability laws appear to have fewer fatal crashes of underage drunk drivers than state without such laws; the number of fatal crashes among underage drunk drivers does not appear to differ significantly in states with social host criminal liability laws and states without such laws7.

Underage drinking parties may be smaller in communities that have established social host policies than communities that have not8. A California-based analysis suggests that when implemented with other interventions, social host liability can reduce heavy drinking among college students at off-campus parties, bars, and restaurants9. Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated no impact on disparities likely.
Implementation Examples

As of 2016, 31 states have criminal penalties for adults who host underage drinking events10. Ten states’ laws focus specifically on underage parties, 21 states have policies with a broader scope10. Thirty-three states have statutes that assign civil liability for injuries or damages caused by minors provided with alcohol7. Four states (Delaware, Kentucky, North Carolina, and West Virginia) and Washington, D.C. have no law that addresses social host liability10, 11.

Implementation Resources

GFPC-Lacy 2011 - Lacy D, Becket M. A how-to guide to implementing a social host ordinance in your community. Steamboat Springs: Grand Futures Prevention Coalition (GFPC); 2011.

PIRE-Social host - Center for the Study of Law and Enforcement Policy (CSLEP), Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE). Model social host liability ordinance with legal commentary. Ventura: Training, Applied Research, and Alcohol and Drug Prevention Division, Ventura County Behavioral Health Department (VCBH); 2005.

WA-Social host guide - Washington State Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking (RUaD). Drafting a social host ordinance: A how-to guide for Washington state communities. Olympia: Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS); 2011.


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1 Hingson 2014 - Hingson R, White A. New research findings since the 2007 Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking: A review. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. 2014;75(1):158-169.

2 US DHHS SG-Addiction 2016 - U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (U.S. DHHS), Office of the Surgeon General. Facing addiction in America: The Surgeon General's report on alcohol, drugs, and health. Washington, D.C.: DHHS, November 2016.

3 Wagoner 2012 - Wagoner KG, Francisco VT, Sparks M, et al. A review of social host policies focused on underage drinking parties: Suggestions for future research. Journal of Drug Education. 2012;42(1):99-117.

4 Dills 2010 - Dills AK. Social host liability for minors and underage drunk-driving accidents. Journal of Health Economics. 2010;29(2):241-9.

5 Stout 2000 - Stout EM, Sloan FA, Liang L, Davies HH. Reducing harmful alcohol-related behaviors: Effective regulatory methods. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. 2000;61(3):402-12.

6 Paschall 2014 - Paschall MJ, Lipperman-Kreda S, Grube JW, Thomas S. Relationships between social host laws and underage drinking: Findings from a study of 50 California cities. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. 2014;75(6):901-907.

7 Fell 2016 - Fell JC, Scherer M, Thomas S, Voas RB. Assessing the impact of twenty underage drinking laws. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. 2016;77(2):249-260.

8 Wagoner 2013 - Wagoner KG, Sparks M, Francisco VT, et al. Social host policies and underage drinking parties. Substance Use & Misuse. 2013;48(1-2):41-53.

9 Saltz 2010 - Saltz RF, Paschall MJ, McGaffigan RP, Nygaard PMO. Alcohol risk management in college settings: The safer California universities randomized trial. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2010;39(6):491-9.

10 APIS - Alcohol Policy Information System (APIS). Welcome to the Alcohol Policy Information System.

11 NCSL-Social host - National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Social host liability for underage drinking statutes.