Risky Business: Fake ID’s, Underage Drinking, and a Community’s Response

There’s always a bit of paranoia for Alex while he waits to get into the bar. As his friends file in, his hands sweat and his heart pounds just a little bit faster as he gets closer to the door. Eventually, he hands over his ID. The doorman gives it quick glance, and lets him in.

This is a regular Friday night for Alex and many other students. After a week of classes, it’s nice to unwind in a bar with friends over some cheap beers. But Alex, unlike his friends, has a fake ID.

Since 1984, the national drinking age in the US has been 21. Technically, there is no real national drinking age. But the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 established the current de facto age of 21 by threatening to punish states that failed to comply with a 10 percent decrease in federal highway funds.

According to the Higher Education Research Institute of UCLA, the average US college freshman is 18 years of age. With a standard 4-year track, that would suggest that average sophomores would be 19 years old, average juniors would be 20 years old, and the average college senior would be 21 years old.

Under current law, this would indicate that only 25% of college students – at Frostburg and around the nation – are eligible to legally drink at bars and nightclubs. Only 25% of students can legally forget about the pressures of undergraduate life over a Heineken or mimosa. And only 25% of students can funnel money into the bars of Main Street and environs – legally, that is.

Peer pressure is hardly a foreign concept on college campuses. A litany of hazing incidents is plaguing Greek Life across the nation. Similar pressures prevail off campuses, at bars, clubs, and house parties. To acquiesce social pressures to fit in, underage students sometimes obtain fake IDs so they can go along with older friends to the local, hole in the wall bar.

Small college towns like Frostburg are not immune to these pressures, nor their effects. The lack of an abundance of off-campus activities can lead to a desire to skirt the law on the weekends. Students will obtain a false ID from a family member or friends. Some even import them from China – an internet-age innovation that’s surely made it easier.

Alex, a Frostburg State University student whose name has been changed for the purpose of this article, explained (on the condition of anonymity) to The Bottom Line why – and how – he obtained a fake ID.

Alex got his ID through an acquaintance who happened to have similar physical features. Initially apprehensive, Alex went ahead and bought his ID for $2o after his friends pushed him to. He remembers them saying, “Oh, yeah! It would so work for you!”

On a campus of roughly 5,000 students, it is not uncommon for sophomores at FSU to be friends with seniors, or for a freshman to be friends with a junior. Diverse social circles leads to students of different ages partaking in weekend activities together. Alex describes his fake ID as a means of not restraining or inhibiting his friends. “It sucks,” he states, “to be the one who holds everyone else back from going to a certain bar or hangout spot, just because you’re the one friend who isn’t old enough to get in.”

Emphasizing his careful use of the fake ID, Alex says that he hasn’t had any problems while using it. “I don’t have it for the reason to be able to go to the liquor store or go out and get trashed. I really only use it occasionally when I’m going out with a group [and] I’ve never used it just to use it,” he explained.

Alex is not alone in his escapades – he is hardly an outlier. He is one of many students who use fake IDs successfully. For those who spend anywhere between $50 and $150 for imported IDs from China, providers often include an insurance policy in the form of an extra ID, in case one is intercepted by a bouncer.

It would seem that the black market has outstanding customer service.

Universities and college towns are aware of students like Alex. Administrators and citizens at Frostburg acknowledge the existence of such exploits and take measures to prevent widespread underage drinking in the community.

Such a measure is The Frostburg Community Coalition (FCC). Founded in 2011 and funded by a substance abuse grant in 2012, the coalition is spearheading a community effort to crack down on underage drinking – dealing with fake IDs is a big part of this mission. FCC consists of prominent figures both in the community and on the FSU campus.

The organization’s goal, according to its webpage on FSU’s website, is to “decrease the percentage of high school seniors that consume alcohol by 10% as measured by the Youth Risk Behavior Survey in the fall of 2014 and decrease the binge drinking rate among Frostburg State University Students by 10% as measured by the Core Survey in Spring Semester 2011.”

The grant funding the organization was provided through the Cumberland Health Department and targets 12-20 years olds for underage drinking and 18-25 year olds for binge drinking. The original grant has ended, but not before building a strong foundation for the FCC, which is now being funded by a larger federal grant and has enabled the coalition to look at the usage of marijuana.

One of the strategies of the coalition is to partner with local Frostburg bars. Currently, 25 bars are associated with the FCC – including prominent student bars like Dante’s, F-Bar, and Zen Shi.

Lyndsey Baker, FCC’s coordinator, is responsible for facilitating activities for the group as well as expanding the group’s membership. On September 29, Baker was recognized with an Exempt Staff Award by Interim President Bowling at the 2015 Convocation for her work on the coalition and at FSU.

Baker has also been trained as a “Training for Intervention ProcedureS” (TIPS) facilitator and gives training for the program, which includes responsible beverage service training. This training is provided for staff members of local bars and establishments, who are taught to look for signs for those who have had too much to drink, how to effectively handle any difficult situations, and how to recognize the difference between real and fake ID’s.

Students benefit from this program because the “community is much safer,” Baker points out. With the grant’s support, there are now increased police officers in the community.

“We are now able to double law enforcement during specific peak times – whenever students are out and about,” Baker says.

Additional police on the streets may not be enough to deter some from flouting the law. Students often feel like drinking is a “rite of passage” and a “first taste of independence,” Baker points out. To ensure safety while drinking and to prevent over drinking, Baker reminds students, “to count their drinks, measure their drinks—having the right amount of alcohol per drink, and drink a small amount [of alcohol] which will still make you happy.” When going out with friends, she advises, there should always be a buddy system that designates at least one person to remain sober. In addition, you should always leave with whoever you came with. Most importantly, Baker stresses, “Know what you are drinking and ask if you are not sure.”

At FSU, there are disciplinary actions for those students who are either caught drinking underage or who are driving under the influence. Students over the age of 18 will be faced with a fine while students younger than 18 are arrested. Students who receive an underage citation in town are also subject to disciplinary action at FSU for a violation of university policy.

“Any violation you have in town, which doesn’t have to be on campus, is also a violation of campus policy,” Baker says. When students are referred to the Dean of Students, there will be sanctions fined to the university of $100. In addition, there is a screening to see if there is an alcohol problem at the university.

Students requiring further education are referred to Baker. An alcohol screening program, entitled “Basics,” occurs, during which Baker and the student discuss the students’ alcohol usage, frequency, and consequences.

Baker reminds students, “Have fun, be careful, be safe.” There are coalition posters in every bar: “Top 10 strategies to keep it low-risk.” Baker says, “Overall, don’t be pressured.”

For more resources on drinking prevention go to The Frostburg Community Coalition’s webpage and the “Reality Check” webpage.


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