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How Much Alcohol is Too Much?

  • Last Updated: March 3rd, 2023
  • By: Mike Grossman
  • Dram Shop

How Much Alcohol Is "Too Much" According To The Law In Texas?

Everyone knows that it's perfectly legal for adults to purchase alcohol at bars and restaurants. Everyone also knows that when too much is consumed people become dangerous on the roads and elsewhere. So, where's the "line"? When does alcohol service go from acceptable to illegal?

In this article, we'll discuss what Texas laws says about intoxication limits and misconceptions about intoxication. But don't miss our helpful Comprehensive Guide to Dram Shop Law page to learn about how Texas law allows accident victims to sue the drunk driver and the bar who served them.

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Questions Answered Here:

  • How does the law in Texas define intoxication?
  • How can bars tell if someone is intoxicated?
  • What is the maximum number of drinks that a bar can serve?

The Legal Standard Under Texas Law

Under the Texas Dram Shop Act, it is against the law for bars, restaurants, liquor stores, etc., to serve alcohol to anyone who is obviously intoxicated to the extent that they present a clear danger to themselves and others. If alcohol providers serve someone who is obviously intoxicated, they have broken the law and they assume at least partial responsibility for any injuries that may occur as a result of the drinker's intoxication.

So, the short answer to the question of how much alcohol is too much is any amount of alcohol past the point of obvious intoxication. Consider the following hypotheticals.

  • Bob goes to a Chilli's restaurant and orders a shot and a beer. He consumes them before ordering his meal, and then orders another shot. When he orders his next drink, the waitress can tell that he's slurring his words. Should the server serve him the third drink / second shot that he ordered? Technically, that would probably be okay. You see, if he's slurring his words, that's a pretty good sign that he is obviously intoxicated. However, Chilli's would not be liable for serving him alcohol just because he was obviously intoxicated at the time they served him. They'd only be liable if they serve him once he reaches the point that he is obviously intoxicated to the point that he is a clear danger to himself and others. If he has one more drink and is slurring his speech, dozing off or appearing glassy-eyed, seems to be having trouble holding his head up, etc., then that's a different story. The for the bar to serve him any additional alcohol would certainly make them liable.
  • Steve is drinking at Buffalo Wild Wings. He's only had one beer, but he started drinking on an empty stomach and he weighs 120 lbs., so his one drink has gotten him pretty drunk. As he walks to the bathroom, his server notices that he's swaying back and forth. When he returns, Steve tells his waitress that he wants one for the road. If she ere to serve him this additional drink she'd be in violation of the law, and she'd expose Buffalo Wild Wings to tremendous liability.
  • Karen has been barhopping. She shows up to Hooters already quite drunk. The Hooters staff can tell that she's drunk, so they decide that they'll only give her watered down beer. How does the law view this? Well, she was obviously intoxicated to the point that she represented... (and so forth), so they have an obligation not to serve her any drinks. Doing so would place them in violation of the law.
  • Imagine that Heather goes to an Olive Garden and sits at the bar. She starts drinking at noon and doesn't leave until the restaurant closes at midnight. In that twelve hour period, she consumes 24 shots. Now, 24 shots is a lot of alcohol, but, if she is served just a couple of drinks per hour and had plenty to eat, she could have very well consumed all 24 shots without having ever gotten drunk enough to raise a red flag. In short, it's perfectly fine for Olive Garden to serve her 24 shots in that time period.

The point we're making here is twofold:

  • First, there is no set number of drinks that is too many. It doesn't matter if it takes one drink to get a customer drunk or twenty, once a bar can tell that the drinker is obviously intoxicated to the point that they represent a clear and present danger to themselves and others, the bar is opening themselves up to the wrath of a Texas jury by serving even one single drop of additional alcohol.
  • Second, bars can't be sued for "getting someone drunk." This is an important distinction. Many people learn of dram shop cases and utterly reject the idea of suing bars on the basis that it's not fair to sue bars just for serving alcohol. Well, the law and the courts agree with them. That's patently NOT what dram shop cases are about. They're instead based on the idea that bars can serve all the alcohol that they want, so long as they cut the patron off once they become dangerously drunk. To put it another way, bars have to really break the rules to a profound degree to be liable for drunken driving accidents, etc.

The TABC charts provide bars with a "cheat sheet."

It's important to note that the standard by which bars are judged on what they know or should have known about a patron's obvious intoxication. The implication therein is that bars can't bury their heads in the sand and just ignore the outwards signs of dangerous intoxication that their customers are displaying. They must consider ALL signs of obvious intoxication, and courts have long ago determined that even if a patron appears to be completely sober, yet the server knows based on a rudimentary understanding of medical science that the person they served must be intoxicated based on the quantity of drinks served in a short span of time, that counts as being obvious.

In other words, if a bartender is blind and deaf and can't physically observe that a patron is drunk, but the bartender knows they served them 6 drinks in an hour, that still counts as obvious intoxication. The reason the court has adopted this position is that if it were as simple as not physically observing obvious intoxication, servers would deliberately look away and intoxication would never be obvious. To prevent this, Texas courts have said that any reasonable evidence of a customer's obviously intoxicated state is something that servers need to be on the lookout for.

To aid servers in determining how many drinks are too many (within a given block of time and for a given person), the TABC creates and distributes charts to every establishment in the state, which serves alcohol. As a result, for employees of licensed alcohol providers, "missing" these signs is not a valid defense to a dram shop claim.

Generally, these helpful charts explain how many drinks in an hour a patron can safely consume. The body eliminates most of the alcohol contained in 1 drink in an hour, so a conscientious server would have no problem selling alcohol to a patron within the rules if they just do the basic math required to see how many drinks a particular patron could consume while accounting for some of the alcohol bleeding off over time. For example, if a 180 pound male drank two drinks in his first hour, he could safely consume one per hour well into the night and likely be never exceed a .08 BAC. Once you cross the .08 threshold, you're generally considered intoxicated, albeit not necessarily to an extent considered "dangerous" under the law.

These charts are also helpful because they remove the guesswork for alcohol vendors and consumers alike. All anyone has to do is simple math. However, we want to make one point about this---drinkers and those who serve them who try to get "near the line" as possible without going over do so at their own risk. In other words, using this chart in an attempt to aim for a .07 before driving home would be a highly dangerous move.

Misconceptions About Intoxication

One of the many misconceptions about intoxication is that there's a huge disparity between people in how they handle alcohol, so not all BAC readings are created equal. Common experience shows us that, while some people may become more visibly intoxicated than others more quickly, that doesn't change the fact that at .08, .10. .12 and beyond, even the most seasoned drinker becomes dangerous to himself and others behind the wheel of a car. Toxicologists will tell you that more frequent drinkers can "mask" the effects of alcohol better. Their brains adapt over time to learn some of the following coping techniques allowing them to avoid seeming as intoxicated as they actually are:

  • Learning to enunciate words clearly so as to not slur their speech as much.
  • Being cognizant of and careful around physical objects, like glasses or bottles, that they might knock over unintentionally.
  • Reducing their walking speed to appear more stable.

While these and other techniques might lead people to believe they're not drunk, the mind of an intoxicated person simply cannot compute the hazards of the road fast enough to drive safely. Further, while more experienced drinkers are still impaired, they need more alcohol to get the "high" feeling. Naturally, this often leads to their consuming even more alcohol and thus getting considerably more dangerous. The point is that someone is not sober just because they're not making a drunken fool out of themselves. They are drunk when their BAC gets to a .08 BAC, and all of the macho "I drive better with a buzz" nonsense notwithstanding, drunk is drunk, irrespective of how drunk someone appears to be. Naturally, though, 99.999% of people will manifest some or all of the visible signs of obvious intoxication upon or before reaching a .08 BAC.

Grossman Law Offices can help victims of alcohol-related accidents.

If you've been hurt or lost a loved one because of a drunk driver, we're here to help. We've been helping victims hold drunk drivers and the negligent bars that served them responsible for decades, and the experienced dram shop attorneys at Grossman Law Offices can help you. Call us at (855) 326-0000 for a free consultation.

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