Fake IDs, also known as false IDs, are fraudulent identification documents typically used to gain access to events or locations not legally available to their holders. In the U.S., where laws prohibit alcohol purchasing or possession for anyone under the age of 21, such documents are often used to gain access to stores, clubs or bars that sell alcohol. In a study published in March 2014 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers from two U.S. institutions analyzed the potential connection between the use of a fake ID and the chances that any given underage drinker will eventually develop alcohol use disorder (diagnosable alcohol abuse or alcoholism).
States throughout the U.S. prohibit anyone from presenting an ID that misrepresents the age of the ID holder or the identity of the ID holder. Federal law also prohibits this activity. Potential penalties for breaking state or federal identification laws include financial penalties and incarceration in a jail or penitentiary. There is no federal law that directly requires individual states to set their minimum drinking age at 21. However, a law called the National Minimum Drinking Age Act does give the federal government the right to withhold substantial amounts of funding from any state that does not establish 21 as the drinking age. For this and other reasons, all 50 states and the District of Columbia require their residents to be 21 before they can purchase or possess alcohol.
Alcohol Use Disorder
One of the main rationales for maintaining the legal drinking age at 21 is the increased susceptibility that individuals below this age commonly have to the harmful effects of alcohol. This increased susceptibility also raises underage teen and young adult drinkers’ risks for developing alcohol use disorder. A person affected by alcohol use disorder has symptoms that indicate the presence of a damaging pattern of non-addicted alcohol intake, the presence of physical alcohol dependence and alcoholism, or a mixture of these two problems. Mildly affected individuals have either two or three relevant symptoms, while moderately affected individuals have either four or five symptoms. Severely affected individuals have at least six symptoms of alcohol abuse and/or alcoholism, and may have as many as 11 such symptoms. The American Psychiatric Association groups alcohol use disorder along with all other forms of officially diagnosable substance abuse or addiction in a category called substance use disorder.
Role of Fake ID Use
In the study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers from the University of Maryland and the Treatment Research Institute used information drawn from 1,015 college undergraduates to investigate the potential connection between fake ID use and the odds of developing alcohol use disorder. All of these students underwent a series of four annual assessments that measured the extent of their fake ID use, the frequency with which they typically consumed alcohol and the overall amount of alcohol they regularly consumed. In an effort to broaden the scope of their project, the researchers also examined the impact of a range of other factors known to affect the odds that any given person will receive an alcohol use disorder diagnosis. These factors include such things as gender, racial/ethnic background, age at initial consumption of alcohol, childhood history of discipline problems, substance use behavior in high school, parental stance on alcohol use and the drinking norms established within each student’s peer group.
The researchers found that roughly two out of every three participants in the study (66.1 percent) used a fake ID at least once during the four-year period under consideration. The biggest influences on the number of times any given individual used a fake ID were the frequency with which he or she consumed alcohol and the amount of alcohol he or she consumed on a regular basis. The researchers did not find that fake ID use directly increases the odds that an underage drinker will develop alcohol use disorder. However, they did find that since underage drinkers who use fake IDs tend to drink more often in the long-term, these individuals do experience an indirect increase in the odds that they will develop alcohol use disorder. This indirect increase stems in part from the fact that people who drink more frequently typically have higher chances of exceeding public health guidelines for alcohol misuse and heavy drinking.
Significance and Considerations
The authors of the study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research acknowledge a need for other researchers to conduct similar investigations and replicate their results. If other researchers do confirm their results, the authors may have uncovered a new, compelling reason to strictly enforce underage drinking laws.