Dealing with drug or alcohol impaired customers or visitors

November 19, 2019

Tim O'Brien - CEO

When dealing with drug or alcohol impaired individuals, safety is the first and overarching priority:

  • The safety and wellbeing of staff
  • The safety and wellbeing of the public
  • The safety and wellbeing of the affected person.

For people working in customer service, in front counter or sales roles, the likelihood is high that they will encounter or be engaged in interactions with drug or alcohol-impaired customers or visitors to the workplace.

However, dealing with people who are impaired by substance use, emotionally unwell or experiencing a psychotic episode, requires skill and sensitivity.

It also calls for compassion and patience, a level of understanding as to the severity of the impairment (and whether medical or other assistance may be required), and alertness as to the potential hazard and safety risk posed.

People in ‘front of house’ roles, or others likely to encounter drug or alcohol-impaired individuals, should be trained for these interactions – for their safety, as well as for the wellbeing of the affected person.


The nature of the response in these situations can vary with the circumstances of the interaction.

Given the effects of alcohol and drug-use on impulse control and the GABA receptors in the brain, and depending upon other factors affecting behaviour and state of mind, interactions with impaired individuals can be difficult.

An aggrieved drug or alcohol-affected customer, client or visitor may pose immediate risk (whatever sits behind their sense of aggravation).

In these interactions, impaired individuals may not respond nor engage in predictable ways. This can result in loss of control, distorted thinking, a propensity to anger or frustration, and even physical unsteadiness (with falling risk).

It is important to be aware that any interaction can quickly become volatile, with or without correct handling, escalating rapidly from frustration to agitation and belligerence, and, in worst cases, to threats or acts of violence.


These risks can be heightened when psychostimulant drug-use is involved, such as methamphetamine (ice) and amphetamine (speed), among others. The behaviours of people affected by these substances may be highly erratic, uncontrolled and potentially aggressive.

Psychostimulant drugs act on the central nervous system. They can make users hyper-alert and agitated and can also induce an intense panic reaction, paranoia, anxiety and delusions. Users may also experience drug-related psychosis, with an accompanying loss of behavioural control and risk of explosive outbursts.

In high risk environments, therefore, or during higher risk hours (such as late at night), work teams should contain at least one trained person to take the lead in assessing risk, and in taking action or providing direction in the interests of the safety and wellbeing of staff, of customers and in the interests of the affected individual.


It should also be recognised that while psychostimulant drug use can increase risk of aggressive behaviour, not all users become aggressive.

In fact, most drug or alcohol-impaired customers or visitors to the workplace are likely to be compliant and benign, if not readily co-operative. They may also, depending upon the level of impairment, be confused, uncertain, withdrawn and unresponsive.

It is important therefore that all staff engaged in ‘front of house’ roles (in reception, at service counters or involved in sales) – or in any role involving engagement with the public – are trained in correct processes and procedures for managing their own safety when engaging or responding to impaired individuals, in acting to minimise potential risk to the safety and wellbeing of others present, and in acting in the interests and welfare of the affected individual.

When dealing with a drug or alcohol impaired customer or visitor to the workplace, safety is the first priority.

Where there is confrontation and an assessment of real risk, that may mean exiting the situation and calling for security or police support.

  • While some impaired or intoxicated individuals can be friendly (if annoying), always be aware that disinhibition due to alcohol intoxication or drug use can produce erratic behaviours that can quickly escalate from passive compliance to confrontation (and sometimes aggression)
  • Be aware that risk to the wellbeing of the impaired individual can also be high, depending upon the substance used and the level of impairment. If in any doubt as to the safety and wellbeing of the affected individual, call 000
  • No member of staff should feel that they need put themselves at risk when faced with situations of this type and should not intervene if they feel it is unsafe to do so
  • Never intervene physically
  • All situations involving drug or alcohol impairment can be unpredictable. There is no certain or ‘fail-safe’ solution to dealing with drug or alcohol-impaired customers
  • When in doubt, contact 000.

Call ADA AUSTRALIA should you wish to discuss your alcohol and drug awareness training needs, and/or policies and procedures for dealing with drug or alcohol-impaired individuals. Phone on 1300 378 429.


Tim O’Brien

ADA Australia

Article by
Tim O'Brien - CEO