green Panel

Alcohol Effects

If you can spot trouble signs before a problem occurs and act to avoid it, you have taken the most important step to reducing liability.

In this section you will review:

  • Blood Alcohol Concentrations (BAC)
  • Factors that Affect a Person’s Blood Alcohol Concentration
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
  • How to Recognize the Signs of Intoxication

One way to reduce risk of injury and thereby reduce liability is to recognize signs and to respond responsibly to prevent problems before they start. If you can spot trouble signs before a problem occurs and act to avoid it, you have taken the most important step to reducing liability.

  • Alcohol is a drug that slows down the central nervous system.
  • Drinks which have the same amount of alcohol will have the same effect on the drinker (standard drinks).
  • Alcohol acts on the brain to alter a person’s mental and physical condition (slows down reaction time, impairs judgment and reduces inhibitions).
  • Blood Alcohol Concentration, or BAC, is a measurement of alcohol in the blood.
  • Many factors influence BAC. The two most important factors are how much alcohol is consumed and over what time period.
  • Intoxication can occur well before major behavioural signs show. Being alert to small behaviour changes can help the server prevent obvious intoxication.
  • Similar amounts consumed may produce different BAC results for different people, and even different results for the same person in different situations.
  • Alcohol increases the risk of hypothermia (lowers body temperature and reduces the ability to notice warning signs).

Standard Drinks
A drink is a drink. Any type of drink that contains the same amount of alcohol will have a similar effect on the drinker. When these beverages are served in specific amounts, they contain exactly the same amount of alcohol.

12 ounces Beer (5% alcohol volume) = 1.5 ounce Highball (40% alcohol volume) = 5 ounce Wine (12% alcohol volume)

All contain approximately 0.6 ounce of alcohol and will have an equal effect on the body.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) or Blood Alcohol Level
Blood Alcohol Concentration or BAC is a measurement of the level of alcohol in the blood stream. BAC is the measure in milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood. This is written as milligrams percent, mg%. In Canada, it is a criminal offence to drive with a BAC of over 80 milligrams percent (.08)

People with alcohol in their systems are less alert. Lowered inhibitions and impaired judgment causes intoxicated people to do things they usually would not do. They do not notice warning signs (like their body telling them they have had enough) and they do not react as quickly to things around them.

Many factors control BAC. The two most important factors are:

  1. How much alcohol is consumed
  2. Over what time period.

Factors that Affect a Person’s BAC Amount:
The more alcohol consumed in a specific period of time, the higher a person’s BAC will be (shooters, drinking games, etc. will heighten a person’s BAC).

Rate: Alcohol is absorbed very quickly into the body, but it takes the body approximately one hour per standard drink to break alcohol down. The body starts to break down alcohol the moment it enters a person’s system, but it will not break down alcohol any faster just because there is more of it.

Size and Body Build: The larger and more muscular people are, the less effect alcohol will have on their BAC. Fat cells do not absorb alcohol very well, so try to judge a person’s size by their lean body mass.

Gender and Age: Because of size and build, women are often more susceptible to alcohol. Because of biological differences, a woman will also become impaired quicker than a man the same size who drinks the same amount of alcohol.

Food: The effect of food can be deceiving. Food will not prevent the absorption of alcohol, but it will slow it down. The BAC will rise more slowly if a customer consumes food with alcohol. Customers may drink more than they intended because they do not feel the effects as quickly.

Other things may also affect a person’s behaviour and impairment when he/she consumes alcohol. These include:
Other Substances: Prescription medication, over-the-counter medication, and illegal drugs can enhance the effect of alcohol. If you notice customers taking medication of any sort, watch them carefully. Also watch for signs of drug-related impairment such as a customer who is easily distracted or who has difficulty concentrating. If you suspect illegal drug use, you need to take further action.

Experience: People often learn to disguise the more apparent signs of intoxication. However, their central nervous system is still affected by the alcohol they have consumed which, therefore, affects reaction time and judgment. A customer who can disguise intoxication in this way should be watched more closely because he/she can reach dangerous levels of intoxication with little warning.

Tolerance: The way the body adapts to the repeated presence of a drug, meaning that higher doses are needed to maintain the same effect.

Setting or Atmosphere: Many things including the lighting, décor, music, type of clientele, and seating pattern, will affect a customer’s behaviour and consumption of alcohol. A person drinking alone may consume more alcohol for something to do, whereas people drinking with friends may drink less because they are involved in conversation. On the other hand, friends may encourage more drinking by peer pressure urging their companions to drink more or play drinking games.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a birth defect caused when a mother consumes alcohol while pregnant. To raise public awareness of this issue, each licensed establishment has been provided with FAS warning signs and labels.

Servers, of course, care about all their customers, but should pay special attention to pregnant guests. The server may wish to offer non-alcoholic beverages as an alternative for the guest.

Visual Signs of Intoxication
Loss of Inhibitions

  • Being overly friendly
  • Loud speech
  • Change in speech Volume: voice may go from low to high with no reason to suggest that a change is necessary Rate: changes in rate of speaking

Impaired Judgment

  • Complains about the strength of drink
  • Changing consumption rate
  • Ordering doubles
  • Argumentative
  • Careless with money
  • Irrational statements

Impaired Reaction

  • Lighting more than one cigarette at a time
  • Eyes blood shot, lack of eye focus
  • Decreased alertness or loss of train of thought
  • Easily muddled
  • Slurred speech
  • Sweating for no apparent reason
  • Slow, shallow, or weak breathing

Loss of Fine and Gross Motor Coordination

  • Unable to pick up change
  • Fumbling with cigarettes
  • Difficulty removing cards from wallet
  • Spilling drink
  • Stumbling, has trouble moving around objects in path
  • Unable to sit upright, ‘nodding off’ then jerking upright

If you observe signs of intoxication, you should adjust or stop your service.

Common Questions

  1. Does it matter whether the stomach is full or empty? Yes. A full stomach can slow the rate of absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream.
  2. Is the size and body build of a person a factor? Yes. Normally a heavier person will not become intoxicated as rapidly as a lighter person even though they might have consumed the same amount of alcohol.
  3. Can servers offer shooters to customers from a server tray? No. A licensee may not allow a server to carry alcoholic beverages in licensed premises before receiving orders for those beverages.


  • emerit

    emerit has been developed by the Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council (CTHRC) in collaboration with tourism industry professionals. It has become synonymous with excellence, credibility, and professionalism in the Canadian tourism sector. For more information go to

  • Discover Tourism

    The Discover Tourism career awareness program was developed to communicate employment and career opportunities in the tourism sector to a range of target audiences including Youth, New Canadians, Persons with Disabilities, Pre and Post Retirees.

  • Canadian Academy of Travel and Tourism

    The Canadian Academy of Travel & Tourism (CATT) focuses on building partnerships between education and industry in order to foster the next generation of Canadian travel & tourism leaders.