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Alcohol is a set of chemical compounds consumed as a liquid by individuals for its intoxicating effect or used in industrial projects for its other unique properties. 

Absent any specific regulation, alcohol is treated like all other forms of personal property. However, the general rights of property are subject to the police power regulations of the state, local, and federal governments. 

Due to its adverse effects, health risks and other public concerns have generated detailed federal and state regulation of the sale, possession, and consumption of alcoholic beverages. While federal law, through the 18th amendment, previously preempted most state laws on alcohol, the later passage of the 21st amendment means that alcohol regulation is primarily a state law issue. 

Alcohol is not considered a “controlled substance” under the US Code and therefore is not subject to the same federal regulations as other drugs. The regulation of alcohol is generally focused on "intoxicating” beverages with the exact definition of "intoxicating" varying from statute to statute. Despite the authority to do otherwise, most states have chosen to adopt 0.5% alcohol by volume, the FDA cut-off to label a product as non-alcoholic, as their definition of “intoxicating”. In Missouri for example, a beverage containing less than 0.5% alcohol by volume is not considered intoxicating. 

Although the majority of laws involving alcohol are state laws, the federal government can and does regulate the importation and interstate transportation of intoxicating liquors as authorized by the commerce clause. Furthermore, the federal government also has the power to regulate liquor sales in D.C., and where it has exclusive authority such as on government owned military reservations, and with Native American reservations.

Additionally, the federal government has used financial incentives built into its funding of highways to establish a national minimum drinking age and the aforementioned FDA ability to control labeling to incentivize uniformity in alcohol regulations across the country.  

Violations of these laws by individuals can result in both civil and criminal penalties. 

[Last updated in June of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]