How to Help a Friend Who Drank Too Much

Being around a friend who drank too much can be scary, especially if you haven’t helped an intoxicated person before. Fortunately, you can keep someone safe and possibly even save their life by taking proper action.

How can I tell if my friend had too much to drink?
When someone is “drunk,” it means that they drank too much alcohol, and it’s affecting their ability to control their behavior and perform basic functions. Knowing common signs of intoxication is the first step in understanding if someone needs help.

If your friend is experiencing several of these signs after drinking, they may be intoxicated:

  • Slurring words
  • Speaking loudly or a lot more
  • Saying things that don’t make sense
  • Being unusually aggressive or argumentative
  • Acting inappropriately
  • Falling down or not being able to walk properly
  • Falling asleep
  • Changes in mood
  • Glassy, bloodshot eyes
  • Vomiting

If you notice any of these signs in your friend, it might be time to step in and help them.

How to safely help
First, ask yourself: Is this an emergency? Alcohol poisoning occurs when a person has drank too much alcohol in a short period, and their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is so high it begins to affect important functions like breathing and heart rate. Alcohol poisoning can be very dangerous and may lead to death or brain damage.

Signs of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Slow breathing (less than ten breaths a minute)
  • Pale or blueish skin
  • Passing out and not waking up
  • Low body temperature
  • Vomiting while sleeping or passed out
  • Seizures

If you think your friend is experiencing alcohol poisoning, call 911 immediately. Alcohol poisoning requires emergency medical attention. While waiting for emergency responders to arrive, you can help your friend by:

  • Staying with them
  • Laying them on their side to prevent choking
  • Not forcing them to eat food or drink liquids, as they can choke
  • Preventing them from hurting themselves

If your friend had too much to drink but they’re not experiencing alcohol poisoning, you can:

  • Discourage them from drinking more. Although you cannot force your friend to stop drinking, you can try to discourage or distract them from drinking more alcohol. One way to get them to not drink anymore (if they still want to) is to say you’ll get them a drink but get them water instead. You can also convince them to leave the environment where the alcohol is being served and leave with them, so they’re not alone.
  • Stay with them. It’s important to stay with your friend so you can check on them frequently. Even if they are not showing signs of alcohol poisoning now that can change. If possible, stay with them until you can be sure they’re okay. If this is not possible, make sure a trusted sober person can stay with them. If no one is sober to stay with them, consider taking them with you.
  • Lay them on their side. As a result of having too much to drink, your friend might want to lie down. If this happens or when they get to bed, have them lie on their side with a pillow to support their back. This position will help prevent them from choking on their vomit.
  • Get them home safely. Getting your friend home safely will protect them and allow them to sober up in a trusted place. If you can’t get them to their home, have them stay the night at your place. They can sober up and go home in the morning instead of taking the risk of being intoxicated on their own.

Things you should NOT do when a friend is drunk
When helping your friend, do NOT:

  • Give them coffee, marijuana, or any other substances to “sober up,” as this can make them have a negative reaction, such as vomiting or worse
  • Give them food or liquids if they are vomiting or you think they might vomit
  • Force them to do anything
  • Leave them alone
  • Let them drive, as they can hurt themselves and others, plus get in serious trouble with the law
  • Let them go home with a stranger or someone who may harm them

Later on…
At an appropriate time, you may want to tell your friend about how worried you are about their drinking and how being worried about them takes the fun out of social situations for you. If you worry that their drinking is a problem, you may also want to suggest they think about seeing a substance use counselor.

The bottom line
When your friend has had too much to drink, you need to be aware of the signs of alcohol poisoning. If you think they are experiencing alcohol poisoning, call 911 immediately. If your friend is not experiencing alcohol poisoning but is drunk, discourage them from drinking more, stay with them, lay them on their side if they are asleep or passed out, and get them home safely. You can literally save your friend’s life.

If you think your friend has a drinking problem, click here to learn how to talk to them about it.

For more information about drinking, check out these resources:

Author: Stephanie Paz is a Tigua Indian of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. She has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from The University of Texas at El Paso and is working towards a Master of Public Health in Health Behavior and Health Promotion from New Mexico State University.

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