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What Are the Laws on College Drinking?

When it comes to drinking on or near a college campus, the campus rules generally tend to mimic existing city alcohol laws. For example, while the campus may have its own policies on drinking and academics, legally speaking, students still must abide by state and local laws regarding issues like underage drinking and zoning laws (i.e., no drinking in public places).

Most major universities have their own campus police, and students can even get arrested for violating campus policies. However, students are generally subject to the alcohol laws of the city where the campus is located, which may or may not be different from the campus policies.

What Are Some Concerns About College Drinking?

Campus policies are generally meant to discourage irresponsible student drinking, and to protect them from dangerous drinking practices. Even city laws may reflect this, as the local alcohol laws in the immediate area may be different from the rest of the city (for example, stores near campuses often don’t sell hard liquor).

Some concerns with college drinking may include:

  • Binge drinking (students drinking heavily for several consecutive days)
  • Underage Drinking
  • Party drinking (students consuming large amounts of alcohol during a party)
  • Fraternity/Sorority Hazing- some college groups unofficially include drinking as a part of their “pledging” process
  • Minor in possession of alcohol- even if they don’t drink it, minors are usually not allowed to possess alcohol

Also connected with student drinking are many other dangers, including the use of alcohol for date rape, and poisoning resulting from drinks that have been mixed with drugs or other substances. 

Where Does Most College Drinking Occur? Is it Legal?

College drinking occurs in many different places on or around the campus itself. Again, whether it is legal or not to drink in a certain area depends on the city laws, and the policies of the campus. Areas designated for drinking will usually be marked with a sign. 

Generally speaking, college drinking frequently occurs in areas like:

  • Fraternity and Sorority houses
  • Private residences (Apartments, homes, etc.)
  • Off-campus recreational grounds
  • Dormitory buildings (though this is usually highly regulated for school-operate residences)
  • On campus during events
  • Sporting event venues (Stadiums, tailgates, outdoor venues)

Who Can be Held Liable for Injuries or Violations Resulting From College Drinking?

In some cases, campus drinking occurs in a perfectly legal manner, except that the student injures themselves due to overdrinking, simply out of lack of judgment.  In such cases, it may be difficult to hold another party liable, since the student’s own negligence brought about their injuries.

However, some parties may be held liable for college drinking injuries or violations, including:

  • Persons who supplied underage drinkers with alcohol
  • Bartenders who continued to serve alcohol to an overly-intoxicated person, or who have engaged in selling alcohol to minors
  • Campus officials (for example, if they failed to enforce school alcohol policies and rules)

Lastly, others students can sometimes be held liable for injuries, for example where one student coerced another to drink under threat of force or violence. 

Do I Need a Lawyer if I’m Facing Issues Involving College Drinking?

College drinking is sometimes a grey legal area, since many college students are of legal age to drink. Even so, drinking on campus is a major health and safety concern- many students die or suffer serious injuries every year due to college drinking practices. If you need immediate legal assistance regarding college drinking, you may wish to contact a qualified lawyer for advice.  Your attorney will be able to provide you with guidance on the subject, and represent you during court if you need to attend court hearings.

Photo of page author Peter Clarke

, LegalMatch Content Manager

Last Modified: 06-10-2014 03:44 PM PDT

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