Does your state allow people under 21 to drink?

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The law is well-established and well-known – those wanting to legally drink alcohol in the United States have to be 21. But whether that answer is explicitly true might vary, depending on the state you're in.

That's because many state laws offer up exceptions to the rule. At least three dozen states have laws on their books that carve out exceptions to whether minors can possess or consume alcohol in the U.S.

SEE ALSO: This map shows how bad income inequality is in your state

The 1984 National Minimum Drinking Age Act requires that states prohibit people under 21 from purchasing or publicly possessing alcohol as a condition of receiving state highway funds.

But many states have exceptions about what can be done in a private residence or with a parent.

The data journalists at HealthGrove looked at states with exceptions, and also noted the prevalence of underage drinking in each place.

The visualization below shows just how much the rules vary.

It's a complicated issue, and those wanting to explore the nuances in their states can use the state lookup tool of the Alcohol Policy Information System.

In Texas, for example, an underage person can possess and consume alcohol if they're with a parent or guardian.

Other states, like Michigan, don't provide any exceptions, and people under 21 aren't allowed to drink or possess alcohol.

Some states – identified in purple on the visualization – may not explicitly prohibit underage alcohol consumption on their books.

The variation between states signals how diverse attitudes are about the issue.

"It's one indicator of how the states really are different culturally," said Ralph Blackman, president of the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility. The group works to eliminate drunk driving and underage drinking, and promote responsible consumption among those of legal drinking age.

Some places – like California – have seemingly contradictory laws.

That state permits minors to possess alcohol in private locations, but it's illegal for anyone to provide alcohol for a minor in any setting.

Adding to the confusion, local governments can have their own ordinances about underage drinking as well.

Blackman said that cities and counties will sometimes pass ordinances in reaction to a fatality or local event that occurs. College towns, where more young people live and congregate, may also pass their own rules.

The lack of uniformity can present a challenge to parents.

"We really shouldn't be in the position of telling kids some laws are OK and some are OK to break," Blackman said.

With the range of laws on the books, it prompts the question: do tighter regulations translate to less drinking?

Though states with the most stringent laws had the least amount of underage drinking, rates didn't differ substantially when compared to states that did have exceptions, a HealthGrove analysis found.

Underage drinking still remains a significant problem in the United States.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health looked at alcohol use among young people – ages 12 to 20 – in their reporting and found that almost a quarter had reported drinking alcohol in the past month, according to the 2013 survey.

However, underage drinking seems to be on the decline.

Underage drinking decreased 6 percent over the decade shown, while binge drinking decreased at about the same rate.

The nuances of the law create a complicated situation for parents, but Blackman advised keeping the conversation focused.

Talks about alcohol should continue between teens and parents, and be less about the variations of the law, but more about values, Blackman said.

"Parents are the leading influence in a kid's decision to drink," he said.

RELATED: Marijuana laws by state

51 PHOTOS
Marijuana laws by state
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Marijuana laws by state

Alabama

No legalization of any kind

(Photo: Dennis Macdonald via Getty Images)

Alaska

Marijuana legalized for medical and recreational use 

(Photo: Zoonar/N.Okhitin via Getty Images)

Arizona

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(photo: TaylorB90/Flickr)

Arkansas

No legalization of any kind 

(photo: yorkfoto)

California

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(Photo: Dorling Kindersley via Getty Images)

Colorado

Marijuana legalized for medical and recreational use  

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Connecticut

Marijuana legalized for medical use 

(photo: Shutterstock)

Delaware

Marijuana legalized for medical use 

(photo: Shutterstock)

Florida

No legalization of any kind

(photo: Shutterstock)

Georgia

No legalization of any kind

(photo: Shutterstock)

Hawaii

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Idaho

No legalization of any kind

(photo: Shutterstock)

Illinois

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(Photo: VisionsofAmerica/Joe Sohm)

Indiana

No legalization of any kind

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Iowa

No legalization of any kind

(photo: yorkfoto)

Kansas

No legalization of any kind

(photo: Shutterstock)

Kentucky

No legalization of any kind

(Photo: Dorling Kindersley via Getty Images)

Louisiana

No legalization of any kind

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Maine

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(photo: Shutterstock)

Maryland

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Massachusetts

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(photo: Shutterstock)

Michigan

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(photo: Shutterstock)

Minnesota

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(photo: anthonylibrarian/Flickr)

Mississippi

No legalization of any kind

(Photo: Medioimages/Photodisc via Getty Images)

Missouri

No legalization of any kind 

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Montana

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(photo: J.Stephen Conn/Flickr)

Nebraska

No legalization of any kind 

(photo: Shutterstock)

Nevada

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(photo: Shutterstock)

New Hampshire

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(photo: Shutterstock)

New Jersey

Marijuana legalized for medical use 

(Photo: Shutterstock)

New Mexico

Marijuana legalized for medical use 

(photo: Shutterstock)

New York

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(photo: Shutterstock)

North Carolina

No legalization of any kind

(photo: Getty Images)

North Dakota

No legalization of any kind

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Ohio

No legalization of any kind

(photo: Shutterstock)

Oklahoma

No legalization of any kind

(photo: Shutterstock)

Oregon

Marijuana legalized for medical and recreational use  

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Pennsylvania

No legalization of any kind

(photo: Henryk Sadura)

Rhode Island 

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(Photo: Shutterstock)

South Carolina

No legalization of any kind

(Photo: Shutterstock)

South Dakota

No legalization of any kind

(Photo: Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the BPL/Flickr)

Tennessee

No legalization of any kind

(photo: Shutterstock)

Texas

No legalization of any kind

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Utah

No legalization of any kind 

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Vermont

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(photo: Shutterstock)

Virginia

No legalization of any kind

(photo: Shutterstock)

Washington

Marijuana legalized for medical and recreational use 

(photo: Shutterstock)

West Virginia 

No legalization of any kind

(Photo: dk_photos via Getty Images )

Wisconsin

No legalization of any kind 

(photo: Kubrak78)

Wyoming

No legalization of any kind

(Photo: Space Images via Getty Images)

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