The Case of Polly Impaired vs Intoxicated

posted in: General Alcohol News

Over the last couple of years, a significant shift has happened in the alcohol serving industry. The previously overused word "intoxicated" was slowly replaced by "obviously intoxicated" or "visibly intoxicated" and now words like "impaired" and "poly impaired" are popping up. Researchers at the National Highways Traffic Safety Administration found that there is considerable variation among state laws in terms of language employed to describe the state of intoxication as well as the provision of alcohol.



So, what's the difference? Let's look at the definitions in Merriam-Webster for more understanding.

  • "Intoxicated is being affected by alcohol or drugs, especially to the point where physical and mental control is markedly diminished."


  • Visibly intoxicated doesn't exist.


  • "Impaired is being in an imperfect or weakened state or condition: such as unable to function normally or safely (as when operating a motor vehicle) because of intoxication by alcohol or drugs."


  • Poly impairment doesn't exist.



From this, we can at least confer that intoxication is the state of being while impairment is the condition. The word "being" referring to as the body and its functions.  While "condition" refers to the outward appearance, quality, or working order. We can then conclude, impairment more superior when used in the context of assessing someone without fully knowing what is going on.


Under most legislation, obviously or visibly intoxicated refers to the outward behaviors that are associated with consuming alcohol. Essentially taking the meaning and adding the ability to evaluate outer observations as well. Then each state usually provides either a long list of possibilities, refers them to a national authority on the matter, or in some cases leaves it up to the reader to decide. Yuck! 


Poly impairment is defined as an impairment of multiple factors (i.e., alcohol, OTC drugs, prescription drugs, and illegal drugs ). However, don't try and assess what many forces are at play. If a test is taken and the assessment was found to contradict your original statement, then your judgment can come into question.


So why do semantics matter? Because specific words can determine if you could be found liable within a court of law. Nearly every state has rules and therefore, penalties associated with the sale of alcohol to an intoxicated person. A vast majority of states have some dram shop law in place holding the seller or selling establishment responsible if an intoxicated person leaves and injuries themselves, others, or private/public property.


To make sure you covered, when asked by police, a local governing commission, or legal system if the person you served was intoxicated, obviously intoxicated, visibly intoxicated, impaired, or poly impaired the answer should always be "the patron showed no signs of (insert word recognized by your state)."