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What Happens When Your Teen Gets a DUI?

Group of teenagers holding up bottles of beer.

Underage drinking results in swift, harsh penalties, often including jail time. Long-term effects can be even worse.

Teen addiction has potentially devastating societal consequences.

Every year, more than 3,000 teenagers die in car accidents involving drunk driving, and more than one in six teens claims to have engaged in binge drinking. The rate of alcohol-related car crashes is higher for teens and 20-year-olds than it is for adults 21 and over, due to younger drivers’ inexperience with alcohol, relative inexperience with driving, and greater proclivity for risk-taking. 

Because of the potentially dire outcomes of underage drinking combined with driving, penalties are harsher for people under age 21 who drive under the influence. For adults, driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or greater results in a DUI charge, but for those under 21, the threshold is far lower, and is in fact 0.00 in many states. 

If you are the parent of a teen, here is what you should know about underage drinking, teen addiction, and driving.

Legal Consequences and Costs

Zero tolerance laws have been around since the 1980s, and are now the law in all 50 states. These laws are made up of two parts. First, anyone under 21 who is stopped for impaired driving and has a blood alcohol level above the legal threshold (which, remember, is 0.00 in many states) is automatically charged with underage drinking, and the person caught in this situation is immediately arrested for DUI. Second, this person’s license will be automatically suspended or revoked. 

First-offense DUIs for people under age 21 carry stronger penalties than do first-offense DUIs for older adults. Depending on the state, underage DUI convictions can result in jail time even for a first offense. Minors with more than one DUI, or who are involved in DUI-related crashes, can count on going to jail and staying there from a few days to more than a year, depending on the specifics of the case. 

Furthermore, teen DUIs result in probation, which can last for several years, and the offender may be ordered by the court to go through an educational diversion program. Minors with especially high levels of blood alcohol may be ordered to undergo inpatient alcohol addiction treatment. Other penalties may include vehicle impoundment, mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device, as well as fines and potential community service requirements. 

Two workers picking up trash with white bags.

Community service and court-ordered teen addiction treatment are potential consequences of underage DUI.

Potential Limitations to College or Career Choices

The consequences of underage drinking are not strictly limited to the legal system, however. A minor’s college acceptance, scholarships, and financial aid may be jeopardized too. While an underage DUI probably will not disqualify a person from admission to college, it may be a factor the college considers, and this can make a difference for schools with highly competitive admissions. Minors with DUIs who fail to disclose the DUI on college admissions applications can end up being kicked out of college. 

Additionally, since DUIs are Class 1 misdemeanors in most states, the DUI will remain on a person’s criminal record into adulthood. Finally, while a DUI will not automatically bar employment in most cases, it can certainly factor into an employer’s decision on whether or not to extend a job offer. The legal, financial, and social penalties for underage DUI are severe, and are that way for a reason; teen addiction carries potentially devastating long-term consequences for the individual and society.

Explore Legal and Treatment Options in Underage Drinking Cases

If your teen is stopped for DUI, you should engage experienced legal representation immediately. You should also seriously consider whether the instance of underage drinking indicates the possibility of teen addiction to alcohol. Like most diseases, alcoholism has better treatment outcomes when treatment is begun sooner, so it is tremendously risky to wait and see if your teen “outgrows” it. 

If you need teen addiction resources or have questions, we encourage you to contact us at any time. The sooner teenage drinking or other potentially addictive behavior is addressed, the better for the individual, the family, and society as a whole.

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