Identifying Problem Drinkers

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

Social Drinkers

The majority of drinkers are social drinkers. For these people, drinking produces no serious long-term health or social problems. Social drinkers do 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 persons who experience a variety of social and medical problems as a result of high-risk drinking. These persons are not 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
  • Spilling drink
  • Cannot find mouth with drink
  • Unable to sit straight on chair or barstool
  • Swaying, drowsy
  • Stumbling
  • Bumping into things
  • Falling
  • Unable to light cigarette


  • Complaining about strength of drink
  • Changing consumption rate
  • Ordering doubles
  • Argumentative
  • Careless with money
  • Buying rounds for strangers
  • Irrational statements
  • Belligerent
  • Lighting more than one cigarette
  • Losing train of thought

Service to an Obviously Intoxicated Person

The law says that no person may sell or give alcohol to anyone who is obviously intoxicated. No person may cause or permit this to occur.

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 that the person is not driving.

For there to be a violation of law, the prosecutor must prove that the server either saw or had the chance to see the signs of intoxication before the service.

No person may sell or give alcohol to anyone who is a habitual drunkard (a person who has lost control over his or her drinking). No person may cause or permit this to occur.

A server 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 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 servers are to be concerned with outward signs of intoxication, the server is not legally responsible for a customer’s driving-under-the-influence (DUI) charge. However, if you try to keep 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

Weight (in pounds) .01% to .04% BAC
(may be a DUI)
.05% to .07% BAC
(likely a DUI)
.08% BAC or higher
(definitely a DUI)
90 to 109 1 2 3 or more
110 to 129 1 2 3 or more
130 to 149 1 2 3 or more
150 to 169 1 2 to 3 4 or more
170 to 189 1 to 2 3 4 or more
190 to 209 1 to 2 3 to 4 5 or more
210 to 229 1 to 2 3 to 4 5 or more
230 or higher 1 to 2 3 to 4 5 or more
Source: California Highway Patrol

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Law

It is a crime for anyone with a blood alcohol concentration of .08% 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% BAC.  A person may be arrested and convicted of DUI on a BAC lower than .08%. Prosecution would depend on the lack of driving skill, poor performance during field sobriety tests and other signs of impairment for a District Attorney to decide.

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%, 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 Under 21 Years Old

California’s zero tolerance law makes it illegal per se (in and of itself) for people under 21 to drive with any measurable alcohol content (BAC) in their blood. This means even a sip of alcohol will result in a 1-3 year suspension of the person’s driver’s license.

Teens are the most dangerous drivers. 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. Thirty percent of all teen deaths are caused by motor vehicle collisions.

Managing Customer Drinking

  • Encourage food with drinks, if appropriate at your establishment
  • Serve a glass of water with straight-up drinks
  • Serve one drink at a time
  • Don’t bring a drink for any customer who doesn’t want one
  • Implement your policy on drink limits; e.g., one drink per hour per person
  • Alcohol can affect a person 30 to 90 minutes after the person stops drinking.
  • Slow down service, if needed
  • Advise a manager about the situation when you restrict service
  • Offer food or alternative beverages
  • Ensure the customer has a safe ride home (call a taxi, friend, or family member, etc.)

Stopping Alcohol Service

  • Advise management
  • Be courteous, but firm – don’t embarrass
  • Focus on yourself – use “I” statements
  • Don’t bargain or back down
  • Arrange for a safe ride
  • Document the incident

Once you decide to terminate service, alert other personnel and get back-up or security. Other things you should share are suspected drinking by minors, customers who are beginning to show signs of intoxication or drinking more or faster than usual, illegal drug use, or the fact that you must leave the floor for some reason.

A final word: When in doubt, do not serve. You have a legal and moral responsibility to prevent customers from becoming intoxicated. Also, it is safer and easier to cut off service before someone becomes intoxicated.

The Incident Log

The incident log is very important in demonstrating your policies of responsible service.  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 service 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
  • When a customer becomes ill or is involved in an accident
  • 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