Recognizing the Signs of Intoxication

There’s no denying that a little bit of alcohol can make an already fun event even more fun, but too much can lead to a bad time. When you and your staff are serving alcohol, be it at an event or in your restaurant, it’s important that you don’t over-serve your clientele. It’s safer for everyone involved that way. 

But because everyone processes alcohol differently, determining when it’s time to cut someone off can be challenging, especially for your newer bartenders. So what are the signs of intoxication you and your team should look for when serving alcohol? Join Nutri-Rific, a provider of ServSafe online classes, as we outline some of the most obvious signs.

A Flushed Face

One of the most immediate signs that someone has been drinking is that their face will begin to flush. If an individual’s face is growing red throughout the night, it’s a sign that they’ve probably had enough to drink for the evening. 

Changes in Behavior

As an individual consumes more alcohol, they might experience their inhibitions being lowered. This can lead to changes in behavior as they drink more. For some, this might mean that they’re willing to take risks they might not otherwise. Others may act inappropriately given the situation, for instance, acting aggressively at a business event. In some cases, individuals may become more aggressive the more they drink. This can lead to other issues if not checked quickly. Since alcohol is processed differently across individuals, others might feel strong emotions like joy, or sadness, which can also affect their behaviors.

Changes in Motor Control

One of the most obvious signs, and one that occurs after an individual is in an advanced drunken state, are changes in their motor control. You might notice this individual is struggling to stay upright while they move, they might bob and weave as they walk, or they might struggle to manipulate objects like their wallets, phones, or even the glass in their hand. 

Changes in Speech

As the alcohol begins to build up in their system, an individual might display changes in their speech. For some, they might speak louder or softer than usual. Others might use more vulgar words. Still others might begin to slur their speech, or not complete their sentences. The rhythm of their speech might also change, with some speaking more quickly while others slow down their speech.

The Stages of Intoxication

While these are the most obvious signs, individuals have their own “tells” that will help you determine if they’ve had enough to drink. Another way to determine if they’ve had enough is to understand the stages of intoxication. There are seven general stages that may present differently across individuals.


After consuming one or fewer drinks per hour, an individual should feel “sober” or like they usually do.


After one to three drinks in an hour, an individual might feel “tipsy.” You might notice that their reaction times are beginning to slow and that their inhibitions have lowered. This means that some might be chattier than usual, or that others feel more confident. 


After two to five drinks in an hour, an individual may experience dramatic changes in their emotional state. Additionally, they might have a hard time remembering things, struggle with coordination, and they might feel very tired or drowsy. An individual is definitely drunk at this stage.


Consuming more than four to five drinks in an hour leads to a sense of confusion in the individual. They may fade in and out of consciousness without realizing it, or they might struggle to follow along with what’s happening around them. At this stage of intoxication, an individual’s perception of pain is lessened, meaning it is easier for them to injure themselves accidentally.


From here on, an intoxicated individual’s body will begin to shut down in response to the amount of alcohol they’ve consumed. At the stupor stage, an individual will be unable to stand or walk on their own. They may pass out unexpectedly and also lose control of their bodily functions. Breathing normally can be challenging at this stage, and your gag reflex may not function properly. This could lead to issues with a blocked airway. At this stage, it is critical that this individual receive immediate medical care.

Coma and Death

Eventually, the overconsumption of alcohol will result in the gradual shutting down of your body functions and organs. The result is that your body falls into a coma. At a blood alcohol content level of 0.45 or above, an individual can die from alcohol intoxication. If they have not already, an individual at this stage of intoxication should be brought in for medical attention.

Make Sure You’re Serving Safely

When done responsibly, drinking, and even getting a little tipsy, can be fun. But when drinking begins to get out of hand, it can cause serious issues, including death. That’s why it’s important for you and your staff to know how to responsibly serve alcohol at your restaurant or event. 
Fortunately, learning these skills is easier than it seems. Nutri-Rific offers ServSafe online classes that outline the fundamentals of serving and managing alcohol effectively. With interactive exercises, and a variety of resources, our classes are convenient and comprehensive. We’ve even made our courses mobile-friendly, so you and your staff can learn on the go! Find out more about our online ServSafe classes and then sign up for your own!