Identifying Problem Drinkers

There are three basic types of drinkers: social drinkers, alcohol abusers, and alcoholics.

Social Drinkers

Most individuals who consume alcohol are social drinkers. For these people, drinking may not produce serious long-term health or social problems. Social drinkers may not experience the effects of chronic alcohol abuse, but they are still at risk for alcohol-related crashes following single bouts of drinking.

Alcohol Abusers

These are people who experience a pattern of drinking that interferes with their day-to-day activities. These persons are not yet physically dependent on alcohol.


These are persons who experience physical and psychological dependence on alcohol. As a result, their ability to control drinking behavior is impaired. This impaired control is the critical difference between alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence.

Signs of Intoxication

Look for these signs in your customers.


  • Slurred speech
  • Slow and deliberate movement
  • Decreased alertness
  • Quick, slow or fluctuating pace of speech


  • Overly friendly
  • Loud
  • Changing volume of speech
  • Drinking alone
  • Annoying others
  • Using foul language
  • Drinking more or faster than usual

Physical Appearance

  • Red, watery eyes
  • Disheveled clothing
  • Sweating
  • Smell of an alcoholic beverage on person
  • Droopy eyelids
  • Lack of eye focus
  • Flushed (red) face


  • Fumbling with money
  • Swaying, drowsy
  • Stumbling
  • Bumping into things
  • Falling


  • Argumentative
  • Belligerent
  • Careless with money
  • Irrational statements
  • Losing train of thought

Service to an Obviously Intoxicated Person

The law states that no person may sell or give alcohol to anyone who is obviously intoxicated. Therefore, every person who sells, furnishes, gives, or causes to be sold, furnished, or given any alcoholic beverage to any OBVIOUSLY intoxicated person is guilty of a misdemeanor.

A person is obviously intoxicated when the average person can plainly see that the person is intoxicated. In other words, the person looks or acts drunk. This includes regular customers who “always act that way.” It does not matter if the person is driving. For there to be a violation of law, the prosecutor must prove that the seller either saw or had the chance to see the signs of intoxication before the service.

Habitual drunkard – A person who has lost control over his or her drinking. No person may sell or give alcohol to anyone who is a habitual drunkard and no person may cause or permit this to occur.

A store clerk may discover a habitual drunkard in one of two ways: (a) A family member tells you the person has a drinking problem and asks you not to serve, or (b) the patron is a regular customer and unable to handle drinking on a regular basis.

A licensee or server who has been warned and still serves a habitual drunkard faces possible ABC disciplinary action and criminal prosecution. (Sections 25602(a) and 23001 Business and Professions Code; 397 Penal Code).

Public Intoxication

It is against the law for any person to be in public under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs and unable to care for his or her own safety or the safety of others (Section 647(t) Penal Code). A person’s BAC level is not a factor in whether the person can be arrested under this law. Law enforcement officers look at the outward signs of intoxication in deciding whether to arrest the person.

Driving Under the Influence

Although licensees and/or employees should be concerned with outward signs of a customer’s intoxication level, they are not legally responsible for a customer’s driving-under-the-influence (DUI) charge. However, by keeping the customer under the legal level, he or she will be more likely to get home safer and more likely to keep coming back.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Criteria:

  • .08% BAC or higher
  • Motor vehicle on public roadway
  • .04% BAC or higher for commercial drivers
  • .01% BAC or higher if under age 21

Drink Chart Guide

WordPress Data Table

WordPress Data Table

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Law

It is a crime for anyone with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent or higher to operate a motor vehicle on a public roadway. The only evidence needed for a person to be found guilty of DUI is blood, breath, or urine test results showing .08 percent BAC.

However, a person can still be charged with DUI even though their blood alcohol concentration level is below the legal limit of .08 percent. This is based on the arresting officer’s observation of the persons mannerisms or by failure of any part of the field sobriety test (FST’s) or if the officer felt that they were intoxicated and should not be operating or in control of a motor vehicle.

How Alcohol Affects Driving Ability

A person’s driving ability may be impaired after just one or two drinks. At a BAC of as low as .05 percent, a person’s restraint, judgment, and coordination are altered. A driver impaired from alcohol is less able to judge distances and estimate the velocity of moving objects. The driver will take greater risks than if he or she had not consumed alcohol. In addition, because judgment is affected, the impaired driver has a distorted view of his or her personal capabilities. For example, “I drive better when I’m drunk,” “I feel fine,” or “I only had a couple.”

The impaired driver has a narrowed visual field (“tunnel vision”). The effect is similar to wearing sunglasses at night. An impaired driver scans the driving environment less often and may fixate on one object like a traffic sign. A driver impaired by alcohol has a reduced ability to do more than one thing at a time (such as braking and steering).

Zero Tolerance for Persons Under the age of 21

Under California law, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to drive with any measurable alcohol content (BAC) in their blood. There is zero tolerance for underage drivers who are caught with even trace amounts of alcohol in their system and could face a one to three-year suspension of their driver’s license.

Teen drivers are responsible for a highly disproportionate number of collisions, injuries, and deaths. Although teens currently comprise only 10 percent of the population, they are involved in 25 percent of all alcohol-involved fatal collisions. 30 percent of teen deaths are caused by motor vehicle collisions.

Incident Log

An incident log is important in demonstrating your policies of selling alcohol responsibly. The incident log documents all details about an event, including date, time, what happened, who was involved and who witnessed the event.

You should fill out the incident log immediately after an incident. Do not wait until the end of a shift or the next day. A complete and accurate incident log may be your greatest asset should a lawsuit ever be filed. You should write an incident report when:

  • You refuse a sale to an intoxicated customer
  • When you arrange transportation for an intoxicated customer
  • When a minor presents a false I.D.
  • When the ABC/police visit your establishment
  • Whenever you call the police


Additional information may be obtained by contacting:

Alcoholic Beverage Control
3927 Lennane Drive, Suite 100
Sacramento, CA 95834

Email us at
Call (916) 419-2500