Legal risks of drinking while in college include consequences for possessing alcohol, drinking, being drunk as well as using transportation while drunk.

If you are preparing for college and life as a college freshman, it is important to get an idea of things to know before going to college. One of the issues you are likely to face as a college student is underage alcohol use and its legal impact. Therefore, learning about drinking laws is an important item for your to-do list.

Underage Drinking

Teen drinking is an issue that persists throughout high school and into college. Underage drinking statistics show that by the time a student is in 12th grade, more than 30% have had alcohol within any given 30-day period and more than 17% have been drunk. The problem may only worsen as people get older. College freshman drinking statistics show that more than 45% drink heavily. Problems linked to underage drinking include:

  • Injury and illness
  • High-risk sexual activity
  • Poor grades

What is A DUI?

Driving under the influence, or DUI, means that you are under the influence of alcohol or other substances while operating a vehicle. In some states, DUI is the same thing as driving while impaired or DWI. Depending on your state, if you drink while driving you may be charged with either DUI or DWI. However, in other states you do not need to be using a substance to get a DWI. For example, you may be charged with DWI if you are falling asleep at the wheel of a car, even if you are not using any substances.

If you are drinking, having a DUI usually means that your blood alcohol level is 0.08% or higher. However, depending on your state, the threshold for underage DUI can be much lower, either zero tolerance or 0.01%. Further, DUI consequences for underage drinkers can be severe. Punishments for underage DUI vary based on your state but can include:

  • Driver’s license suspension
  • Jail
  • Community service
  • Fines
  • Probation

Minor in Possession

Underage drinking laws are strict in many states in order to discourage drinking among minors. As a result, there are legal consequences of underage drinking in many states. For example, if you are under 21 and are caught with alcohol, you could face a minor in possession, or MIP, charge. Depending on your state, you can face this charge if you try to buy alcohol, even if you are not successful. You may also face a MIP charge if you have alcohol on your person, even if you are not drinking it.

Other Situations That May Get You A DUI

Across the United States, different state laws define what can be called a DUI. What constitutes a DUI in different states may vary based on state laws. Depending on the state, using modes of transport other than a car can also lead to a DUI. For example, in some states, you can get a DUI even if you are using a non-motorized vehicle. Different states may even have different types of DUI and legal charges depending on the type of vehicle used. Sometimes, reports about these kinds of non-car or truck DUIs will end up in the news. Examples of these kinds of weird DUI stories include:

  • A man from North Dakota who was arrested after riding a Zamboni drunk on an ice rink
  • A man in Minnesota who was arrested after riding farm equipment while drunk
  • A Michigan man who was arrested while drunk on a riding lawn mower

Riding A Bike

You can get DUI riding a bike in some states. Whether or not you can get a DUI while biking can sometimes depend on if your state defines a bike as a vehicle or not. Getting a DUI while riding a bike is sometimes instead called BUI, short for “biking under the influence.” Some states even have legal penalties specifically for BUI. For example, California DUI laws exempt bike riders from DUI because bikes are not vehicles under state law. However, cycling while drunk is still illegal in the state, which has a specific BUI penalty. Conversely, Florida DUI laws cover bikes as well as cars and trucks. Meanwhile, you cannot be charged with a DUI in Texas if you are riding a bike.

Driving A Golf Cart

Because a golf cart is a motor vehicle, it is subject to DUI laws in many states. Golf carts are not designed to be driven on public roads. However, you can get a DUI on a golf cart even if you are only driving it on the golf course. As long as you are driving on land that is open to the public, you may be charged with a golf cart DUI. Because golf courses and resorts are businesses that serve the public, they may be subject to DUI laws in some states even though they are private property.

Riding A Horse

In some states, you can get a DUI riding a horse or operating a buggy. Even if your state does not give DUIs for riding a horse, you still may be charged with a traffic violation or public intoxication. Sometimes, you may even be charged with animal cruelty. Although unusual, multiple cases of DUI on horseback occur across the country. In 2019, a California man was arrested for riding a horse while drunk. In addition, in 2019 a Kentucky man was charged with DUI and felonies after crashing his horse and buggy while drunk.


You don’t need to be on land in order to get a DUI. In fact, you can get a DUI on a boat in all 50 states. You can even get a DUI while on other water equipment like a jet ski. Law enforcement can conduct checkpoints of boats on waterways just like they do for cars on roads. Because boating licenses are often required, a DUI while boating can put your boating license at risk. Further, getting a DUI while operating a boat can have repercussions when you get back to land. For example, a DUI while boating can impact your driver’s license.

Being A Disruptive Passenger

Although rare, it is also possible to get a DUI as a passenger in a car. Even if they are not behind the wheel of the car, in some cases a drunk passenger can be charged with a DUI. For example, if you are drunk and grab the wheel of the car while it is moving, you may be charged with DUI. Also, if the police are not sure who was driving the car, you may face a DUI charge. Even if you are not driving, interfering with the police during a DUI stop can land you in legal trouble. For example, disruptive behavior may lead to charges of public drunkenness.

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Editor – Renee Deveney
As a contributor for Advanced Recovery Systems, Renee Deveney is passionate about helping people struggling with substance use disorder. With a family history of addiction, Renee is committed to opening up a proactive dialogue about substance use and mental health. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more
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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.