Drugs & Alcohol

Employers have a legal duty to protect employees’ health, safety and welfare.

Understanding the signs of drug and alcohol misuse (or abuse) will help you to manage health and safety risk in your workplace, develop a policy to deal with drug and alcohol-related problems and support your employees.

What the issues are and what to look out for

Misuse is not the same thing as dependence. Drug and alcohol misuse is the use of illegal drugs and misuse of alcohol, medicines and substances such as solvents.

Consider these warning signs, which could indicate drug or alcohol misuse:

  • Unexplained or frequent absences
  • A change in behaviour
  • Unexplained dips in productivity
  • More accidents or near-misses
  • Performance or conduct issues

These can also be signs of other things, like stress or illness.


If you're driving, don't drink. It’s an offence to drive, attempt to drive, or be in charge of a motor vehicle on a road or public place if the level of alcohol in your breath, blood or urine exceeds the prescribed limit. The legal limit of alcohol in the body is 35 micrograms (µg) per 100 millilitres of breath.

Any person who is or was driving, attempting to drive, or who is or was in charge of a motor vehicle on a road or any public place (e.g. a pub car park or a garage forecourt) may be required by the police to provide a breath test to ascertain whether or not the alcohol in their system exceeds the maximum prescribed legal limit.

The drink-drive limit

There are strict alcohol limits for drivers, but it’s impossible to say exactly how many drinks this equals - it’s different for each person.

The limits in Scotland are different from the rest of the UK.

Level of alcohol

England, Wales and Northern Ireland


Micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath



Milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood



Milligrams per 100 millilitres of urine



There are strict drink driving penalties if you are caught over the limit.

You can’t drive anywhere in the UK if you’ve been banned by any UK court because of drink driving.

The way alcohol affects you depends on:

  • Your weight, age, sex and metabolism (the rate your body uses energy)
  • The type and amount of alcohol you’re drinking
  • What you’ve eaten recently
  • Your stress levels at the time

Drink driving penalties

You could be imprisoned, banned from driving and face a fine if you’re found guilty of drink-driving.

The actual penalty you get is up to the magistrates who hear your case and depends on your offence.

You may be able to reduce your ban by taking a drink-drive rehabilitation scheme (DDRS) course if you’re banned from driving for 12 months or more. It’s up to the court to offer this.

Being in charge of a vehicle while above the legal limit or unfit through drink, you may get:

  • 3 months’ imprisonment
  • Up to £2,500 fine
  • A possible driving ban

Driving or attempting to drive while above the legal limit or unfit through drink, you may get:

  • 6 months’ imprisonment
  • An unlimited fine
  • A driving ban for at least 1 year (3 years if convicted twice in 10 years)

Refusing to provide a specimen of breath, blood or urine for analysis, you may get:

  • 6 months’ imprisonment
  • An unlimited fine
  • A ban from driving for at least 1 year

Causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink, you may get:

  • 14 years’ imprisonment
  • An unlimited fine
  • A ban from driving for at least 2 years
  • An extended driving test before your licence is returned

You won’t automatically get your licence back if you’re a high-risk offender.

High-risk offenders

If you are a ‘high-risk offender’, you will not get your new licence until you can prove you are fit to drive again. You will need to pass a medical examination with one of DVLA’s appointed doctors.

You are a high-risk offender if you:

  • Were convicted of 2 drink driving offences within 10 years
  • Were driving with an alcohol reading of at least 87.5 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres (ml) of breath, 200 milligrams (mg) of alcohol per 100 ml of blood, or 267.5 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of urine
  • Refused to give the police a sample of breath, blood or urine to test for alcohol
  • Refused to allow a sample of your blood to be tested for alcohol (for example if it was taken when you were unconscious)

You’ll get a D27PH renewal form 90 days before your disqualification ends. You must fill in the form and send it to DVLA to reapply for your licence.

Medical examination with a DVLA doctor

Once the DVLA receives your application for a new licence, they’ll send you the doctor’s details so you can make an appointment.

You have to pay for your examination.

During the examination, you will:

  • Complete a questionnaire about your medical history and use of alcohol
  • Take part in a physical examination
  • Have your blood tested


It’s illegal to drive if either:

  • You are unfit to do so because you’re on legal or illegal drugs
  • You have certain levels of illegal drugs in your blood (even if they have not affected your driving)

Legal drugs are prescription or over-the-counter medicines. If you are taking them and not sure if you should drive, talk to your doctor, pharmacist or healthcare professional.

The police can stop you and make you do a ‘field impairment assessment’ if they think you’re on drugs. This is a series of tests, for example, asking you to walk in a straight line.

They can also use a roadside drug kit to screen for cannabis and cocaine.

If they think you’re unfit to drive because of taking drugs, you’ll be arrested and will have to take a blood or urine test at a police station.

You could be charged with a crime if the test shows you’ve taken drugs.

Prescription medicines

It’s illegal in England, Scotland and Wales to drive with legal drugs in your body if it impairs your driving.

It’s an offence to drive if you have over the specified limits of certain drugs in your blood and you have not been prescribed them.

Talk to your doctor about whether you should drive if you have been prescribed any of the following drugs:

  • Amphetamine, for example, dexamphetamine or selegiline
  • Clonazepam
  • Diazepam
  • Flunitrazepam
  • Lorazepam
  • Methadone
  • Morphine or opiate and opioid-based drugs, for example, codeine, tramadol or fentanyl
  • Oxazepam
  • Temazepam

You can drive after taking these drugs if:

  • You have been prescribed them and followed the advice on how to take them by a healthcare professional
  • They are not causing you to be unfit to drive even if you’re above the specified limits

You could be prosecuted if you drive with certain levels of these drugs in your body and you have not been prescribed them.

Table of drugs and limits

‘Illegal’ drugs (‘accidental exposure’ – zero-tolerance approach)

Threshold limit in micrograms per litre of blood (µg/L)





Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Cannabis)




Lysergic acid diethylamide




Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)


6-Monoacetylmorphine (Heroin)



‘Medicinal’ drugs (risk-based approach)


Threshold limit in blood


















Separate approach (to balance risk)

Threshold Limit in Blood



The government is unable to provide any guidance on what amounts of dosage would equate to being over the specified limits. There are too many variables, such as physical characteristics, where each person will metabolise the drug at different rates. Eating or drinking will also affect blood concentration.

 The law does not cover Northern Ireland but you could still be arrested if you’re unfit to drive.

Penalties for drug driving

If you are convicted of drug driving you will get:

  • A minimum of the 1-year driving ban
  • An unlimited fine
  • Up to 6 months in prison
  • A criminal record

Your driving licence will also show you have been convicted for drug driving. This will last for 11 years.

The penalty for causing death by dangerous driving under the influence of drugs is a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

Other problems you could face

A conviction for drug-driving also means:

  • Your car insurance costs will increase significantly – This will also be a problem when a company is looking to insure you to drive commercial vehicles
  • If you drive for work, your employer will see your conviction on your licence
  • You may have trouble travelling to countries like the USA

Another problem that will face operators where one of their drivers is stopped by the Police at the scene of an RTA and who fail a Breath Test (Alcohol) or Saliva Test (Drugs) is the fact that since March 2019, the operator or Transport Manager must notify the traffic commissioner’s office within 28 days.

This can be found in the Senior Traffic Commissioners Statutory Document No. 1 GOOD REPUTE AND FITNESS – Version 5.

On page 22 under Guidance Note 68, it states:

68. some operators are subject to other regulatory regimes where strict liability (“no-fault”) offences or other enforcement action might result. The numbers of incidents involved may be significant. To ensure a consistent approach the Senior Traffic Commissioner has identified the types of offence which should be notified:

    • Also, any offences by employees who hold vocational licences such as offences for drink/drug driving, dangerous driving, death by dangerous driving, and mobile phone abuse must be notified to the Office of the Traffic Commissioner (OTC) if the driver holds a vocational licence.

 The offence(s) must be notified to the Traffic Commissioners Office within 28 days. Failure to do so by the operator will require to be answered to the Traffic Commissioner (TC).

Be aware that if a driver is found wanting at the roadside and fails either an Alcohol or Drug Test, the Police will notify the TC if the driver is in charge of a commercial vehicle.

Further Reading

The following downloadable documents or websites should be read/visited in conjunction with these subjects.

Ignition Alcolocks

HSE – Drugs & Alcohol