FLASHBACK FRIDAY: How to Help an Intoxicated Friend

This blog post was originally posted on March 5, 2013 and was written by Natalie Rich. 

Next week is Spring Break. Maybe you and your friends have plans to relax under palm trees in a sunny tropical location. Maybe you are going home to reunite with all your buddies from high school. Maybe you are sticking around Chapel Hill. Whether your Spring Break plans involve productivity or partying, you may be in a situation with people who are intoxicated. So, here are some tips on how to be the best friend/bystander to someone who has had a bit too much…

1.       Telling people they’ve had too much

It helps to have a conversation with friends beforehand to get an idea of what is too much for them or signs that it’s time to switch to water. That will make it easier to broach the subject later on in the night. If you haven’t talked to your friend beforehand, you can still talk to him in the moment. Offer him a cup of water or simply suggest going home. If your friend is just gearing up to have a good time and wants to keep drinking, try getting support from others to intervene. You don’t want to gang up on him, but having multiple people suggest that he slow down or take it easy on the shots may help.

If you are worried about a friend’s drinking, here is some information on how to have that conversation with him/her

2.       Taking keys away from someone

car-keys-use-this-oneThe easiest way to help people avoid drinking and driving is to establish a plan at the beginning of the night. If you are hosting, collect keys as people come in the door and keep numbers for cab companies handy. If going to a party, agree on a DD or take a cab to and from the party. You may find yourself in a situation where a friend insists on driving after she has been drinking. She may think she is fine to drive, but even small amounts of alcohol can impact decision-making and driving ability. Plus, the legal limit for driving if you are under 21 is 0.00 (0.08 for 21 and up) which means any amount of alcohol puts her at risk for DUI. When a friend insists she is fine to drive, it can be tricky to convince her she is not. Again, getting support from others might help. Call a cab for your friend or offer to drive her home if you are sober or ask a DD at the party to drive her home. Remove as many barriers as possible, so that it becomes easier for her to choose getting a ride home rather than driving.

3.       Know what alcohol poisoning looks like and know what to do.

If your friend is experiencing any of these signs, it may be alcohol poisoning:

  • Throwing up
  • Passed out and cannot be woken up
  • Incoherent speech
  • Shallow breathing
  • Pale, bluish, or clammy skin

If you suspect alcohol poisoning, here’s what to do:

  • Call 911
  • Stay with the person or have someone (not intoxicated) stay with the person
  • Try to wake up the person
  • If lying down, keep them lying on their side (to reduce risk of choking on vomit)


  • Campus police—962 8100
  • After hours Healthlink (to speak to a nurse after hours)—962 2281
  • UNC ER—966 4721

For more detailed info on how to help an intoxicated friend who may have alcohol poisoning, check out this great post on Go Ask Alice.

4.       Take care of yourself when the people around you are intoxicated. 

stock-footage-happy-young-student-studying-at-home-and-smiling-is-joyfulNo matter what kind of situation you find yourself in, don’t forget to take care of yourself first. That means leaving a party that’s getting out of control to avoid legal risk. That means telling your suitemates to keep it down so that you can go to sleep. And it means listening to your gut. If you get a bad vibe from a party, tell your friends and suggest an alternative. If you don’t feel like going out, then take a night to yourself and stay in. Being a good friend is not just about taking care of others; it’s about knowing how to take care of yourself too.

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