Legislators, Behave Responsibly and Know Your Limits: Utilizing the Law More Appropriately as an Instrument of Change When Addressing Underage Drinking
Oxford Handbook of Psychology and Law, G. B. Melton & J. R. P. Ogloff, eds., Oxford University Press, Forthcoming
60 Pages Posted: 3 Sep 2013
Date Written: September 2, 2013
Because of the adverse consequences of underage drinking, society has enacted a range of laws to discourage this behavior. Yet, while most youth are aware that this activity is illegal, a sizeable proportion consume alcohol and it is arguably normative for many college youth, suggesting that these laws have had little impact on this behavior. Such a conclusion, however, is overly simplistic. Using deterrence theory for an analytical framework, this paper addresses whether, how, and under what circumstances the law shapes the drinking behavior of youth. We also briefly describe a variety of other factors that may be more influential than the law.
Focus is also placed on a group of underage drinkers who we initially identified a decade ago in a report produced for the National Academies of Science as being significantly at risk and for which a distinct response is necessary. In a relatively novel position at the time, we contended in this report that while underage drinking should not be condoned and steps should be taken to discourage this consumption, it did not warrant a draconian and punitive response because such a response was unlikely to curb this behavior and had the potential to create negative consequences of its own. Rather, we argued then and continue to argue now for a greater emphasis on education and administrative responses that identify this behavior and bring to bear, in a non-punitive fashion, various mechanisms to discourage it. We also continue to contend that there is a sub-group of high-risk youth engaging in underage drinking who should be the focus of substantial societal efforts — including early identification and diversion into a range of needed psychological and social services — to redress and remedy the constellation of problems in which they are engulfed. These youth are described, emerging research pertaining to them is reported, an analysis is provided of whether and how the law can serve as an instrument of change for them, and more appropriate societal responses are proposed for both this subgroup and underage drinkers in general.
Keywords: Laws addressing underage drinking, alcohol consumption by adolescents, incidence, prevalence, impact, & risk factors, developmental factors, social attitudes, high-risk youth, deterrence theory, psychology & law, direct/indirect effects of laws
JEL Classification: I00, I10, K14, K32, K4, K40, K42, M3, Z00, J13
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation