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Updated on August 21, 2023
6 min read

Minor in Possession: Understanding Alcohol-Related Crimes

Key Takeaways

  • MIP laws, also called underage drinking laws, apply to everyone under 21 caught consuming alcohol with only a few specific exceptions
  • There are three types of possession: actual, consumption, and constructive
  • Most states have MIP laws—some are less restrictive than others
  • Penalties for violating MIP laws vary from state to state and may increase based on the number of offenses
  • It is illegal to service or provide alcohol to minors in all states—some have specific exceptions
  • Underage drinking poses several risks
  • Many resources are available for those struggling with underage drinking, including physical and mental health and legal support

What is a Minor in Possession (MIP)?

A Minor in Possession (MIP) is a person under 21 caught possessing or consuming alcohol. This can include buying, holding, or drinking alcohol and being drunk in public. It also includes having a blood alcohol concentration above 0.00.

Underage drinking laws vary from state to state. Generally, the law considers a first offense a misdemeanor and can result in a fine, alcohol education classes, and/or community service. In some states, a second offense is considered a felony.

MIP laws deter underage drinking and protect minors from the harmful effects of alcohol.


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Types of Possession

Legally, there are different types of possession. For example:

Actual Possession

Actual possession means having direct physical control over the substance in question. This could mean the substance is on you, in your car, or at home. Essentially, if you can directly access and use it, you’re in actual possession of it.

There are some exceptions to this rule.

For example, if you have a controlled substance hidden in your car and you don't have easy access to it, then legally, you might not be in actual possession of it. The same goes for if the drug is in your home, but it’s locked up, and you don't have the key.

In these cases, it may be more difficult for prosecutors to prove that you were in actual possession of the drug or alcohol.

Consumption Possession

In the legal sense, consumption possession refers to possessing a controlled substance for personal use. This means the substance isn’t being sold or distributed but simply kept for the person’s consumption.

Depending on the jurisdiction, there may be different legal penalties for consumption possession than other forms of drug possession.

For example, in some places, possession of a small amount of marijuana may only be punishable by a fine. Other states consider it a misdemeanor or even a felony.

Constructive Possession

Constructive possession allows law enforcement to charge someone with possessing a controlled substance even if they don’t physically have it on them. Instead, the prosecution must prove that the defendant had knowledge of the drug and intended to exercise control over it.

Constructive possession is often used in cases where drugs are found in a car or home that multiple people have access to.

What are MIP Laws?

Most states have laws that make it illegal for someone under the legal drinking age of 21 to possess or consume alcohol.

There are a few exceptions to these laws. However, in general, it’s illegal for minors to possess or consume alcohol.

MIP laws discourage underage drinking and protect minors from the potentially harmful effects of alcohol. Alcohol consumption can lead to many problems, including car accidents, violence, and health problems.


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What are the Penalties for Minor-in-Possession Violations?

The penalties for a MIP conviction can vary depending on the state you were arrested in and your specific circumstances. However, some common penalties for MIP offenses include fines, probation, and community service. 

You may also be required to attend alcohol education or a treatment program in some states. If you’re convicted of multiple MIP offenses, you may face more severe penalties, such as jail time.

What are the Penalties for Serving or Providing Alcohol to a Minor?

It’s illegal in every state to provide alcohol to minors under 21. 

A person who provides alcohol to minors can face fines, jail time, and more, depending on the specific circumstances and the number of offenses. However, there are some exceptions.


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Exceptions for Possession

Sometimes, it’s legal for people under 21 to consume alcohol. 


However, most states have limited exceptions relating to: 

  • Lawful employment
  • Religious activities
  • Consent by a parent, legal guardian, or spouse
  • Educational courses

These exceptions are almost always limited to specific locations (private residence, parent or guardian’s home, etc.) No state has an exception allowing anyone other than a legal guardian or family member to provide an alcoholic beverage to a minor on private property. 

Five states have no such exceptions, which means there are no exceptions to underage drinking. These states include: 

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Idaho
  • New Hampshire
  • West Virginia 


People 18 and over with qualifying medical conditions can use marijuana for medical purposes in states where it’s legal. In states that have legalized recreational marijuana, users must be at least 21 years old.

It’s illegal to possess or consume marijuana in states where medical and/or recreational marijuana is prohibited, regardless of age. The same is true for all other illicit drugs. 

Underage Drinking Risks

Potential risks of underage drinking include:

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Problems in school, including attendance issues and lower grades
  • Social problems including isolation and fighting with friends
  • Legal problems
  • Physical problems, including hangovers or illness
  • Unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity
  • Disruption of normal growth
  • Increased risk of suicide and homicide
  • Alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents
  • Memory problems
  • Increased risk of misuse of other substances
  • Changes in brain development 

Minor in Possession: Related Resources

Mental Health Resources

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline: 1-800-662-4357

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

National Institute of Mental Health

Health Resources

Crisis Text Line: Text 741741

Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN): 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism 

Legal Help for MIP Charges

Most first-time offenders violating MIP laws must participate in court-ordered counseling and/or community services. However, some states impose stiffer penalties. This is especially true for second alcohol-related offenses and later.

Regardless of the specific laws in your state, it’s a good idea to speak to a criminal defense lawyer if you or your child is accused of violating MIP laws. The consequences of violating these laws can be long-term and affect your child for many years. They include:

  • Fines
  • Enrollment in diversion or alcohol education programs
  • Offense on criminal record
  • Community service
  • Possible incarceration

Also, remember that MIP violations can affect insurance premiums for your family. Your child might also face license suspension. These consequences would be the case even if a minor didn’t have alcohol in their possession.

Updated on August 21, 2023
6 sources cited
Updated on August 21, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. FTC. “Alcohol Laws by State.”, 2013.
  2. National Institutes of Health. “Underage Drinking | APIS - Alcohol Policy Information System.”, 2016.
  3. CDC. “CDC - Fact Sheets-Underage Drinking - Alcohol.”, 2021.
  4. NIAAA. “Underage Drinking | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).”, 2021.
  5. National Institute of Mental Health. “NIMH» Help for Mental Illnesses.”, 2019.
  6. SAMHSA. “The Consequences of Underage, 2022.
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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