Helping a Friend with an Alcohol Emergency

Helping a Friend with an Alcohol Emergency


Imagine the scene. Sara and Kim have been out to a party tonight. Now, back in the residence hall, Kim is vomiting and Sara is having a difficult time keeping her awake or upright.

Or. Joe and Jill are returning to their floor after being out. There is a guy passed out in the hallway. Joe thinks he recognizes him from another floor but isn't sure.

What should they do?

Tips for intervening when a person is passed out or incapacitated by alcohol or other drugs

  • Keep the person still. Moving them could cause them to fall.
  • Don't try to have them walk, take a cold shower, or drink coffee to sober up. Only time can do that.
  • Don't give them food, drinks or other drugs.
  • Don't laugh, ridicule, argue or provoke.
  • If the person is vomiting, stay with them. Keep them from lying down. If they are lying down, turn their head to one side to prevent choking.
  • If unconscious, try to wake them.
    • IF they do not wake up call 911.
    • IF they seem to have irregular or shallow breathes, call 911.
    • IF their skin color is washed out, or an unusual color, call 911.
    • IF their skin feels clammy to the touch, call 911.
    • IF they are awake but do not know who they are, or are making strange comments, call 911.
  • It is hard to care for someone who has had too much to drink. If you have also been drinking, it is even harder. BE SAFE. If you are worried about a friend, get help.
  • Sometimes fear of getting the person in trouble prevents people from calling for help. Do not let this stop you. The paramedics and police are trained to help the person. Saving a life right now is more important than any legal issues that may or may not occur later.

Now imagine, Kate has a friend who's drinking has gone to the next level. Kate used to enjoy going out occasionally with this friend but now she always gets very drunk and gets into situations that make Kate uncomfortable. Also, it only seems like she wants to drink, she never wants to just hang out. Kate feels like she should say something, but what?

When is a friend's drinking "too much?"

  • You notice when the person drinks they drink more than they intended to
  • You see consequences happening to them when they drink (missing classes, getting sick, alcohol policy violation or other legal problems)
  • They have significant physical consequences (blackouts, vomiting, passing out or even needing to go to the hospital)
  • Their personality changes when they drink, and possibly become more easily angered, or belligerent
  • Others also have expressed concern (friends, parents)

A person does not have to exhibit all of these symptoms to have a drinking problem. If you see a friend or loved one who has any of the above and you are concerned trust your instincts and get more information.

What to do?

  • The Office of Health Education and Promotion can help. There are trained educators/counselors to help decide if the person needs help and how to help. There is also a Resource Library and other information.
  • Set some time aside to talk to the person about your concerns. Ensure that it is a time where you will not be rushed, and that the person will not be drinking.
  • Pick specific examples of when his or her behavior concerned you. Frame the discussion with "I" statements. Example: "I have been very concerned that you seem to be getting hurt when you are out drinking. I am worried about you." Or "I am worried that if you miss anymore classes you will fail your course".
  • Try not to blame, lecture, preach, or to get pulled into an emotional conversation.
  • If there are other friends who are also concerned, encourage them to also talk with your friend. Try not to have too many people at one meeting. Research supports that the more often a person hears a message, the more likely they are to internalize the information. Also, you don’t want your friend to feel ganged up on.
  • Listen. Not only will it help your friend listen to you but they may have given this a lot of thought already.
  • Be ready to give your friend resources and options.
  • Also be ready that your friend may be angry or dismissive. It is hard to predict how someone will respond to this information.
  • Set boundaries. You may not want to be with your friend when they drink anymore. It also sets up a mixed message if you choose to continue to drink with that friend. Let your friend know that you still value your friendship but that you are uncomfortable/worried/etc. when he/she is drinking.

We can sometimes be the most help to our friends by letting them know we are concerned, by really listening, and providing support to help them help themselves.

Remember, you can't do everything. Don't take responsibility for fixing or solving your friend's problem. You can't make another person seek help or make life changes. The most you can do, and this is a great deal, is to share your observations, experiences, feelings and concern. This can make a difference.

Resources at UNH:

Additional Information:

  • Facts About Alcohol Poisoning from NIAAA
    Excessive drinking can be hazardous to everyone's health! It can be particularly stressful if you are the sober one taking care of your drunk roommate, who is vomiting while you are trying to study for an exam.