Whether you’re a university student about to attend their first party, or a grownup with friends who sometimes party a little too hard, it’s good to know what to do when things get out of hand. Here are some of the top tips and skills that can help you help others.
Plan ahead for getting home and getting help
This is basic party safety: Know how you’re getting home, and who should be with you. Ideally you’ll come to the party with a buddy, and plan on going home together. This helps you find your way home, but also the two (or three, or four) of you can check on each other and keep each other safe.
If you’re at university, many schools have a phone number to call if you’re stranded on or near campus, or a “drunk bus” that can take you back home. Find out your options ahead of time, and make sure you have a safe way to get yourself and your possibly incapacitated buddy back to your respective beds.
You’ve also probably received some kind of pamphlet from the school about safety, with emergency numbers, resources and tips of various kinds. Take a picture of that pamphlet, and program the numbers into your phone, so you have that information when you need it. Take a photo of your health insurance card too, in case you end up at the hospital, and ask your friends to do the same.
Know the difference between ‘sleep it off’ drunk and ‘call 000' drunk
It isn’t normal for somebody to drink a lot and then completely pass out. Now, it might happen fairly often, especially at the beginning of the semester on university campuses, but that doesn’t mean it’s a thing to shrug off. If you don’t know whether your friend is OK, call for help. On campus, there may be a rescue squad or campus security number to call; otherwise, you know how to dial 000.
Get help if your friend:
- Looks to be asleep, but you can’t wake them up
- Might be choking on their own vomit
- Is breathing very slowly
If you call for help, stay with them until help arrives, and tell the emergency responders whatever you know — how many drinks they had, for example. You won’t usually get in trouble.
If your friend can wake up and is breathing just fine, just help them get home safely. If you’re drunk too, find a sober person who can help. Put your friend into a recovery position on the floor or in bed, and have somebody stay with them.
Watch for injuries, and know first aid
Even if somebody only has a small amount of alcohol or drugs in their system, they can still put their life or health at risk because of the things they do while they’re impaired. Do your best to keep your drunk friends away from cars, water (alcohol is a huge risk factor for drowning) and other dangerous situations.
And keep an eye out for injuries. If somebody is bleeding or badly bruised, or looks as though they may have hit their head, it’s possible that they are more injured than they let on. Again, if you aren’t sure how badly hurt somebody is, call for help anyway.
Take a first aid course if you can. Some critical life-saving skills to know are:
- CPR, for when somebody’s heart isn’t beating or they aren’t breathing (you do CPR while somebody calls 000, and keep it up until the emergency responders arrive)
- How to stop bleeding in an emergency — tourniquets are good again!
- What to do if someone is choking (the Heimlich works, but there’s more you should know)
Know how to use naloxone
It’s important to know that a passed-out person might be overdosing rather than just drunk. Once again, if you don’t know, call 000 anyway.
A person who has overdosed on opioids (whether that’s heroin or somebody’s leftover pain pills) will be completely unresponsive, breathing very slowly (less than 12 breaths per minute), and often have blue hands and lips. Narcan or generic naloxone are easy to use if you have them handy.
If this is a situation you think you might encounter, it can be a good idea to have naloxone on hand or to find out whether there’s a kit available nearby. Jillian Bauer-Reese wrote at Slate that perhaps every student should go to school with naloxone and fentanyl test strips.
It’s up to you whether you think you might need them, but either way it’s always good to know what to do in an emergency and to be as prepared as you can be.