Is underage drinking a sin?


Hello, this is my first post to ‘Catholic Answers’ so please bear with me.

I’m 18 years old and last week I was at my cabin with my family. My uncle offered me a beer and I refused on grounds of obeying civil law. (I live in Michigan and Michigan law prohibits anyone under 21 consuming alcohol except for religious or medicinal purposes ) However, I am now rethinking this position. I understand we have a moral duty to obey just civil laws. However, in the face of unjust laws, “it is legitimate for them (citizens) to defend their own rights and those of their fellow citizens against the abuse of this authority within the limits of natural law and the Law of the Gospel.” CCC 2242. While the government obviously has the right to set drinking laws in the public realm, I would reckon it an “abuse of authority” for them to set this restriction on the privacy of me and my family’s home. Ultimately, my parents have the responsibility of raising me, not the government. As the Catechism states, “Following the principle of subsidiarity, larger communities should take care not to usurp the family’s prerogatives or interfere in its life” CCC 2209. By disregarding the judgment of my parent’s, the state oversteps it’s boundaries and wrongfully asserts it’s authority in my familial life. This unjust law is an offense against subsidiarity and therefore need not be obeyed. My parents know far more about me than the state does and I their judgment is much more pertinent in such a trivial matter.

Does anyone agree or disagree? I’d love to here your feedback and comments

Pax Christ,


Just to clarify, the “underage drinking” i’m advocating for is only done in the context of parental consent and consent of the owner of the private property. Also, this drinking must be done without the intent of getting drunk, ie losing one’s rational judgment.


That is a lot of mental gymnastics to justify having a drink before 21. With that being said, I would not call it grave matter to have one beer or one shot if my parents offered it before I was 21 in our home. Frankly, the law would not care. I am willing to bet a lot of great Catholics speed occasionally and think nothing of breaking that law. Occasionally, myself as well. However, a 18 year old kid does not need a beer either. It is for adults. I say just wait 3 years.

Why don’t you ask a apologist on this site or your priest. All you are going to get here is varied opinions.


I mean, no one needs a drink. Alcohol is by no means a right. And I am considered an adult by the standards of the US government, though I am still in school. I would be prosecuted as an adult and can get drafted into military service as an adult. While I am still in need of much maturity, I am legally considered an adult. But, I will consider reposting this in the aforementioned thread. Thanks!


The thing is, you don’t have an obligation to drink. If alcohol were banned altogether, yes, it might be a stupid law, but what reason would you have to break it? (Unless you were a priest and there was no exception for religious use).

AFAIK, there are exceptions for alcohol provided by parents to their own children in their home. Maybe Michigan doesn’t have such an exception. And if you want to avoid even venial sin (admirable), you can always say “No thanks,” and don’t even have to offer a reason.



Personally I would not do it, since I have been raised to see nothing good come from it (so many anti-drug and anti-alcohol videos throughout school). But there are plenty of good Catholic people I know who believe it is okay if parents give it to you at home. My quite traditional Catholic college even used to justify giving alcohol to all students during special events by saying it was in loco parentis “in place of parents” but were told to stop and have done so. I think it would be better to make that small sacrifice, but it would probably not be horrible if you did not.


Venial sin at worst given the specifics in your example.

Drinking is not grave matter. The law that does not allow you to drink with your parents is arbitrary and varies by state. Disobeying it, is not grave matter.

For an adult to consume a legal beverage in a family setting is not sinful.

BTW, Michigan is not known for rational liquor laws. I was there when the age changed and it was crazy time.

For contrast, a minor can drink in Texas with his/her parents’ permission, even in a public place. :shrug:


Here is a treatment of this topic from respected apologist Jimmy Akin:

There are a few differences vs your specific case, but the general principles seem solid.

PS It’s a shame you are not in a state in which there is more leeway in terms of underage drinking with parental consent. But you’re not.

PPS I have also seen priests advise the opposite. eg:

So… :shrug:


I think we can all agree that this situation is very minor in it’s overall gravitas. But yet, I still want to avoid sin in all circumstances. I firmly believe the state has no right to tell me I can’t drink in my home when my parents have no objection to the matter. Subsidiarity, I think, is key here. Good ole Hilaire Belloc would side with me: “Where the Catholic sun doth shine, there be laughter and good red wine.”


A priest told me that it’s not a sin, for what it’s worth.

In Ohio, where I’m from, the drinking age used to be 19, then Mothers Against Drunk Drivers pressured the state to change it to 21.

Personally, I think that if you are a legal adult, and can serve in the armed forces, then you should be able to have a beer.


In Europe (Italy, France, Spain) it is customary to start giving wine to kids as early as 7 years old albeit they water down the wine especially the strong red ones.
In Germany beer is not even considered an alcoholic beverage and it is given to kids as young as 3 years of age.

Over there drinking water is NOT very common especially with meals.

One example of how ingrained is this custom: In the North Sea the drilling rigs that produce oil, are operated by crews from most any country. One characteristic on these rigs is they are 100% zero alcohol zones. NOT SO if the crew is from France. They WILL BE SERVED wine with their meals. NO IF BUTS OR WHAT. :thumbsup:

There is no sin in having a glass of wine or beer with your meals or in company of family and friends, while under the supervision of your guardians you follow their rules.
What is sinful is to drink to stupor and loosing your senses. This is clearly condemned by the Church and the Bible.


Yes. Nobody needs a drink. What I meant when I said a kid does not need a beer is that it is rare a 18 year old kid pays a ton of bills, has a full on career and all the stress that comes with it or a bunch of children to take care of. A beer or two is a good way for a adult to relax. Unless a 18 year old is fully supporting themselves in this world and knows the true stress of being a adult, he does not need a beer. THAT, is what I meant. Of course that is my opinion. I had my first beer when I was 8. My Grandfather gave it to me. And I was going to bars and buying Alcohol when I was 19 because I always looked older. I though I was a adult. I was not as most kids that age are not adults mentally anyways.

And I agree… if you go into the military you should be able to drink even if you are 18, but you are not in the military, are you? And 17 year old’s often get tried as adults too. I do not think that means a 17 year old should be able to occasionally crack open a can of beer. While I do not think it a grave sin for a 18 year old to have one beer in their house if their parents say it is okay, I do not see the point of a 18 year old having a beer is what I am saying. I would not go as far as to say it is a “Unjust law” that 18 year old’s cannot drink even with their parents permission though.


You’re not defending your rights. You’re privately breaking the law in a way that is only going to affect you. You would not be making any meaningful assault on what you feel is an overstepping of state authority. But we’ll let that go for the moment…

So–is drinking by persons under 21 a public health hazard that warrants the limits placed on drinking among 18-21 year olds by the government? It is easily arguable that it is and very hard to argue that it is not.

People under the age of 21 drink about 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States, over 90% of which is consumed during binge drinking. In terms of acute dangers, in 2010 there were approximately 189,000 emergency rooms visits by persons under age 21 for injuries and other conditions linked to alcohol. In terms of long-term risk, youth who start drinking before age 15 years are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later in life than those who begin drinking at or after age 21 years.

On average, underage drinkers consume more drinks per drinking occasion than adult drinkers. (Statistics are from the Centers for Disease Control.) Besides loss of life, excessive alcohol consumption, including excessive consumption among youth, is also a major economic burden on federal, state, and local governments, including loss of productivity, health care costs, law enforcement time spent, domestic disturbances and failures, and damage to property. Lowering the drinking age to 18 resulted in an increase of alcohol-related traffic deaths in the US, whereas raising the age to 21 again lowered the incidence of these deaths. Let’s not even start with what a lowered drinking age does to achievement and productivity on college campuses.

Because under-aged drinking has been identified as such a major public health problems of our time and because raising the drinking age to 21 has directly resulted in fewer alcohol-related deaths, I don’t think you have the principle of subsidiarity on your side when it comes whether governments have a just cause to regulate drinking among persons 21 and under. Your premise that appropriate drinking ought to be allowed is great, but the government can show you that very few of your peers drink appropriately.

Medical and sociological research points to a great deal of damage done to the drinkers and to others when the drinkers begin their drinking career before 21 years of age. Requiring parental supervision does not prevent binge drinking among young people. So while the government that has less restrictive laws than Michigan is not necessarily failing their duty to protect youth, that does not mean that Michigan is over-reaching by feeling these boundaries are necessary.

So–the question is whether or not it is a grave matter for an 18 year old to illegally consume a very modest amount of alcohol on private property and under the supervision of his or her parents. I would doubt that either a civil judge or a priest would say that it does.

Decide how much you really want to avoid sin. This is a venial sin, but it is a deliberately chosen sin, all the same, at least if you do it in the state of Michigan. Provided you are not providing a near occasion of sin to one of your peers who will not handle underage drinking as well as you would, it is the same as breaking any other law in the belief that you are not violating the spirit and intention for which the law was passed. Even secular judges use their discretion to hand out probation and a suspended sentence or a light sentence for someone who is guilty of this sort of offense.

It would not be a sin to deliberately choose to go to some state or country where you can drink legally, provided you do not offend against moral law in how you drink.


I’ll be the opposite on this and hear me out.

It was New Years Eve and I was about 9 years old. Towards midnight I kept asking my dad to let me have a sip of his drink and all night he said no. Just after the ball drop he conceded into letting me have one sip.

I’ll never forget, he goes over and takes a glass and pours a solid shot of scotch. No water, no ice, no nothing. He hands me the glass and I couldn’t have been more excited…until I swallowed that scotch. :crying::crying::eek::eek: I’ve never felt a burning pain like that in my whole life!!! The experience was miserable and made me almost retch. I coughed a storm and my eyes watered to no apparent end.

Never touched that drink since.


It does seem like you are trying hard to contort sentences to mean what you want. By your same logic, would you feel that the government has rights to restrict drugs to those of those ages (or any ages for that matter?)

Is there a compelling reason that the government enacted those laws. (What do you think those reasons might have been? Are they just there to manipulate young adults?)

I don’t really think it is that big of a deal one way or the other. I actually think that small amounts of alcohol under a parents’ purview may actually take some of the glamour away from it.

And for some background:
My parents were never big drinkers. As far as I can remember, they may have had a drink or two when they entertained. So a few drinks a month. But as far back as I can remember, my dad always offered all of us a glass of wine at Thanksgiving (for example). But, because he offered it, everybody tasted it at some point - and not one of the six kids ever drank to any measurable amount. In fact, I think for me, I didn’t take up drinking because there was no shock in it. Even when I went to college - I had tons of friends drinking on every occasion that they could. I never made a big deal about them drinking - nor drew any attention about me not drinking. I eventually started taking a mixed drink here and there just so I wouldn’t stand out (The drinking age was 18 in those days, but I don’t think that would have mattered except for that I didn’t like beer at all - so if i didn’t go to a bar - where there were other options, I wouldn’t have had anything.

I have four children - elementary school aged - They are too young for me to have an issue yet. But, I would rather have them taste their first alcohol when I am with them. I would prefer them to be away from the peer pressure that is out there. I would rather discuss with them the implications of drinking - how they may some day feel pressured. how it impairs judgment. how the shouldn’t even consider driving (Or being in a car with a driver who was drinking …and that is something that I regret from my own life - that I allowed myself to get into a car an a couple of occasions with a driver who had been intoxicated). Nothing happened to me. A friend in the dorms killed himself by driving in to a tree while drunk.


That’s too bad. On that note, though, I know a much-older brother who allowed his youngest brother (who was barely more than a toddler :eek:) a sip of whiskey. The boy got a look on his face like he’d had five gallons of ice water dumped on his head…but then he came back for another try, which his older brother did not allow him. The younger one is in middle age, neither a tee totaller nor an alcoholic.

As for this thread, there is no reason to believe an 18 year old who understands appropriate drinking will get even the slightest amount of aversion to a cold beer enjoyed on a Michigan lake.


The OP is talking about a level of alcohol consumption that is not immoral on its own merits and is considered appropriate circumstances and an appropriate level of consumption in some US jurisdictions. I would not teach my sons to feel utterly free to break ticky-tack civil ordinances when even the spirit of civil law is not being violated, but on the other hand I wouldn’t tell them to get too scrupulous about it, either. It is mostly a matter of whether you’re exhibiting any meaningful level of civil disobedience and whether or not you are causing scandal or being a near occasion of sin.

If your parents decide to overrule the civil law in such a non-confrontational way, there aren’t any peers around who are likely to be harmed by the example, and the young fellow isn’t doing this on his own accord, I wouldn’t raise an eyebrow about it. It is not a violation of divine law, but the law of man, which makes it more a judgment call. Provided that the parents really are going to be keeping an eye on this fellow–do not be your own referee when it comes to alcohol consumption, but have someone else watching you, too–I would probably decide based solely on whether there were any peers who might be even somewhat more likely to engage in unacceptable drinking at some point because of the example. That is the only grave danger or careless disregard for the welfare of others I can see in what he’s proposing.


I suppose my dad is just old school and figured it would kill any urge and let me tell you that it did.

I’ve only been to Europe a little bit, but if I’m not mistaken the drinking age in UK is 18 and only 16 in France. From what I saw, they don’t have near the underage/teen alcohol problem the U.S. does.


I understand I have no right to alcohol, as does no one else in this world. I also recognize that the state has legitimate authority to set public drinking laws and that it has compelling reasons for these laws. However, I can find no compelling public reason for the government to set these laws within the privacy of my own home, over and above the judgment of my parents. My parents have the right to raise me and the state trumps this right with this law, albeit in a very trivial matter. The state does not have legitimate authority in these “internal affairs”. I firmly believe subsidiarity is on my side here. A larger governing body should not do for a lower governing body what the lower governing body can do for itself. Are you saying the government knows better about when I’m mature enough to drink in my own home? I understand that once I leave private property with alcohol in my system, I am breaking the moral law. At this point, I come under the state’s responsibility. But I simply do not believe the government has legitimate authority to tell my parents when I’m old enough to drink or not, within a private setting. Though it is a very, very small matter, the state is in fact infringing on the rights of families, at least within the state of Michigan. Therefore, I find no moral obligation to obey this law.

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