Fact of the Day: Where do Underage Drinkers Get Alcohol?

One of the myths perpetrated about letting private, licensed stores sell wine or liquor, rather than maintain a government monopoly, is that there will be a huge increase in underage drinking. But there is no evidence to support this myth.

Last week, we noted that Pennsylvania ranks higher than the national average in terms of underage drinking (along with underage binge drinking and binge drinking among all ages).

Indeed, looking at national data, most underage drinkers aren’t going into stores to buy liquor. Almost 70 percent of underage drinkers have their alcohol given to them by another person, and more than 20 percent give someone else money to buy them alcohol. Only 4.7 percent of underage drinkers bought their own alcohol in store.


Furthermore, in looking at alcohol sales in the commonwealth, most alcohol is not sold in stores operated by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB), but in restaurants, bars, hotels and beer distributors.

Converting to alcohol content (as beer sales by volume greatly exceed wine and spirits), the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) estimates that almost three-quarters of alcohol sold in Pennsylvania, 73.7 percent, occurs outside PLCB stores.

PA Sales Volume
Gallons Gallons of Alcohol Percentage On Premise Alcohol Gallons Off-Premise Alcohol Gallons Total not PLCB Retailed
Spirits 15,672,796 5,877,299 26.0% 1,663,276 4,214,023 1,663,276
Wine 18,391,071 2,206,928 9.8% 470,076 1,736,853 470,076
Beer 315,562,500 14,515,845 64.2% N/A N/A 14,515,875
Total 349,626,367 22,600,072 100% N/A N/A 16,649,227
Source: Beverage Information Group Handbooks, 2010. Spirits converted at 37.5% abv, wine 12%, beer 4.6%. Compiled by Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

In a debate over letting private businesses run liquor stores, it is important to realize three things: Nearly every other state allows private retailers to sell wine and/or spirits; most alcohol in Pennsylvania is already sold by private businesses; and most underage drinkers don’t buy alcohol in liquor stores.