Recognizing intoxication

Although individual reactions to alcohol, cannabis, or other drugs may vary, people tend to exhibit certain patterns as they approach intoxication. This information sheet outlines some of the signs which indicate that your customer may be starting to show signs of intoxication from alcohol, cannabis, other substances, or a combination of all. Patrons should be carefully monitored as these signs may appear in any sequence or be clustered, depending on the individual. It is important to note that under the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, 2017, it is against the law for a person to smoke tobacco, cannabis or use an electronic cigarette (vape) in any enclosed public places, any enclosed workplaces, and other places designated as “smoke-free” and “vape-free”. This includes establishments licensed by the AGCO.

Inappropriate speech volume:

Intoxicated persons frequently speak in volumes inappropriate to the situation: they shout when it isn’t necessary or whisper when there’s no need for secrecy. Their voice may go from low to high (or vice versa) when there is no reason to suggest that a change in volume is necessary.

Motor control (fine) deteriorates:

Intoxicated persons often have trouble performing activities that require fine motor control. They may fumble with everyday items such as papers or cell phones or have difficulty picking up change. As their hand-eye coordination declines, people also misjudge distances. They may also have issues with their depth perception.

Pace of speech:

Intoxicated persons may change the rate of their speech, alternating racing speech with slow speech, or talking consistently slow or fast.

Alertness decreases:

Intoxicated persons may take longer to respond to questions or react to events. They may not be able to understand or pay attention to what you’re saying. They may easily become muddled, requiring you to repeat simple questions or requests before they respond.

Inappropriate sweating:

Intoxicated persons may sweat more than might be considered normal given the temperature and surrounding conditions.

Red eyes:

Take note if a customer’s eyes are bloodshot to any degree. Individuals intoxicated by cannabis may also exhibit eyelid tremors and/or dilated pupils.

Motor control (gross) deteriorates:

Alcohol, cannabis and other substances may also impair one’s gross motor coordination. Patrons may have difficulty standing upright or walking a straight line. They may have a delay in responding or in processing, and may weave, misstep, or stumble, perhaps bumping into other people or furniture. To compensate, they may put their hands out at the sides for support or balance.

Poor enunciation, slurring words:

Alcohol, cannabis and other substances may relax muscles, including those in the mouth, making it hard for an individual to speak clearly and distinctly. Intoxicated patrons may make a single error while speaking — repeatedly stumbling over one word — or slur several words together.

Noticeably shallow breathing:

Can you notice a difference between your breathing and the customer’s? An intoxicated person may breathe noticeably slower or shallower than others. There also may be weakness in their breath, with little air inhaled or exhaled.


Alcohol and cannabis are depressants – as patrons become intoxicated, they may show signs of being tired or sleepy. Their eyes may be heavy or closed, or they may have a placid or fixed gaze.


Here are some strategies on how to deal with customers who show signs of intoxication:

  1. Initial sign of intoxication
    • Monitor the patron and stay alert for the development of other signs (a single sign may not necessarily be linked to intoxication).
    • Make food, water, low-alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages available to slow alcohol intake.
  2. Few signs of intoxication
    • Continue to monitor the patron carefully.
    • Offer/serve food, water, low-alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages to decrease the rate of drinking.
  3. Multiple signs of intoxication
    • Cease serving alcohol to this patron under any circumstances.
    • Use “management of intoxication” techniques to reduce the likelihood of injury and damage. For example, ensure that the patron has a safe means of getting home; if necessary, call the police.
    • Remember your statutory obligation as a licence holder to not permit intoxication, unlawful gambling, or disorderly conduct to occur on your licensed premises or in adjacent areas under your exclusive control (s. 43(1), O. Reg. 746/21 made under the Liquor Licence and Control Act, 2019).


These strategies may help you lower the risk of a customer becoming intoxicated at your licensed establishment:

Offering alternative beverages:

Actively offer a wide variety of low and non-alcoholic drinks to your customers. Make sure your customers know these products are available. Advertise them on your menus and tent cards. Promote alternative beverages options by offering them at prices that are competitive with regular alcoholic products. Create interesting “mocktails”: exotic names and fresh ingredients will make these products appealing to your customers.

Offering food:

Serving food is one way that you can lower the risk of customers becoming intoxicated by alcohol. Not only does food delay the absorption of alcohol into the blood, but it generally takes customers longer to drink when they are also eating. Offer free or low-priced appetizers for after-work customers: these people may be at especially high risk of becoming intoxicated because they are likely to have an empty stomach. Try a “hungry hour” promotion with two-for-one snacks. Train your servers to market food: offer them incentives for increasing food sales.

Interview and assess:

Chat with customers before taking their order. Have they eaten? Does it appear that they have been drinking elsewhere or consuming cannabis? It is your responsibility as a licence holder to not permit intoxication in your licensed premises. You make the decision on whether to serve a patron and bear the responsibility to monitor them for signs of intoxication.

Don’t invite trouble in:

Train your door staff to recognize the signs of intoxication and refuse entry to anyone who appears intoxicated.

House policy:

Develop, post and enforce a house policy on intoxication.

Further, it is the licence holder’s responsibility to ensure that every person involved in the sale, service, sampling or delivery of liquor or in taking orders for the sale of liquor holds a valid (non-expired) certificate demonstrating the successful completion of a training course approved by the board of the AGCO (i.e., Smart Serve). This includes managers, security staff that the licensee employs, and employees handling liquor. Smart Serve is the only approved liquor training program in Ontario.

For more information on training requirements, see the Responsible Liquor Sale, Service and Delivery Training page on the AGCO website at

For more information, please contact AGCO Customer Service iAGCO online portal,at 416-326-8700 or 1-800 522-2876 (toll-free in Ontario) or visit us online at