Managing an intoxicated person

The following steps can assist in the management of an intoxicated person. However, ensure that in the first instance you refer to your agency's policies and procedures regarding managing intoxicated clients.

First and foremost, assess the situation and consider your safety, the affected person’s safety, and the safety of others. Enlist others to help you manage the situation if necessary.

  1. Introduce yourself and your role
  2. Ask their name
  3. Ask if they know where they are and what is happening
  4. When talking:
    • use the person’s name (if known)
    • speak clearly and ask simple questions
    • be firm but non-threatening
    • talk slowly and gently
    • adjust your pace to theirs
    • keep eye contact (where culturally appropriate)
    • keep instructions brief and clear
    • avoid information overload but repeat when necessary
    • avoid ‘hot’ topics and long discussions
    • be friendly and polite
    • help the person where needed
  5. Also remember to:
    • remain calm
    • listen to the person
    • do not shout or argue back
    • do not make sudden movements.

Reducing the impact of intoxication

There are things that you can do to reduce some of the harms associated with volatile substance use (VSU) intoxication. For example, do not chase or physically restrain a person who has been using volatile substances as physical exertion can increase their risk of sudden sniffing death.

If the intoxicated person is conscious and not in need of immediate first aid:

  • confiscate the substance if it is safe to do so
  • reduce any immediate risks to the person or others by:
    • opening doors and windows if in an enclosed area
    • removing matches and not permitting smoking
  • reduce stimulation by:
    • moving to a safe location with low stimulus, or
    • making the immediate environment low stimulus by removing bystanders. Over-stimulating environments for an intoxicated person could result in an acute physiological reaction such as shock or sudden death
  • discourage any exertion, encourage the person to relax and remain calm
  • keep calm, reassure the person, speak quietly
  • stay with the person until effects have worm off
  • if necessary, seek medical advice or call for an ambulance.

(Victorian Government Department of Human Services, 2003)

Self care

Managing an intoxicated person can be a difficult experience. Make sure you debrief with a colleague or your supervisor after the incident. Self care is important when dealing with difficult or challenging situations.

See also Acute intoxication page of this website.