Social host laws

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.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Reduced impaired driving

  • Reduced excessive drinking

  • Reduced underage drinking

Evidence of Effectiveness

Social host liability laws are a suggested strategy to reduce drunk driving, heavy episodic drinking, and underage drinking (Hingson 2014, US DHHS SG-Addiction 2016, , , ). Available evidence suggests that these policies may reduce heavy episodic drinking and drunk driving (, ), particularly among adolescents who already drink (). One study of 18-20 year olds indicates that such laws are more likely to affect drunk driving than heavy drinking (). 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 laws ().

Underage drinking parties may be smaller in communities that have established social host policies than communities that have not (). 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 restaurants (). Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

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

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.

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.

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.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

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

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.

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

Date Last Updated

Jul 13, 2017