There is increasing interest in the way in which drugs impair performance. This has arisen because some may impair day-to-day skills of those whose occupations demand vigilance and motor skill, and of those who are involved in decision making or where interpersonal relations are crucial. For many years the position was adopted, at least in certain occupations where impaired performance could be a danger to others, that the use of any drug should preclude employment. However, recent advances in therapeutics and a greater understanding of drug action in man has made this rather uncomplicated view of life less tenable, and there is now an increasing desire that advances in therapy should, if at all possible, be available to occupational groups, such as airline pilots. In this way the adverse effect which a drug may have on performance has become an important aspect of its clinical profile. Hypnotics appropriate for transient insomnia, which may arise from the irregularity of rest inherent in many occupations, need to be free of residual effects, antihistamines that are sedative must be avoided, and drugs used in the management of mild hypertension, often during the important years of middle life, must be as free as possible from central effects. And it must be emphasized that these drugs are often used by active, healthy or near healthy individuals. The issues involved in the safe use of a particular drug by a particular individual are complex, and as with all aspects of therapeutics it is sometimes necessary to balance efficacy and adverse effects.