Responding to intoxication

When a young person comes home intoxicated, rather than trying to work out what they have used, the best course of action is to deal with the symptoms you see. It is important to consider what the goals and priorities are for managing an intoxicated person.

There are some general things you can do in all situations:

  • Focus on keeping them safe and monitoring their well-being
  • Remain calm and reassure them
  • Give them space and reduce environmental stimulation
  • Avoid information overload
  • Err on the side of caution and contact emergency services if required
  • Follow plans or procedures provide by the agency you work for or are supported by.

Then there are things to particularly keep an eye on if the young person in presenting in the following ways.

If they are drowsy, slow, disinhibited, ‘on the nod’, or becoming aggressive

  • They are going to struggle to understand lots of information, so try to only ask one question at a time or talk about simple, concrete ideas.
  • This is not the time to try and talk to them about or enact consequences. This can wait until the next day. The only time this would be necessary if when it concerns their safety or others.
  • If they are in extremely low-mood, check for self-harm and suicidality
Check that can still be roused without hassling them

If they are getting aggressive (usually in relation to alcohol use) de-escalate the situation 

If they are ‘speedy’, confused, disorganised, loud, edge, anxious, tending towards becoming angry or aggressive

  • Use a calm, clear, concerned tone
  • Emphasise you want them to feel safe
  • Be aware of other people around and maybe suggest to find a space just for them
  • Don’t escalate the interaction. Showing concern can help.
  • Put off any decisions or consequences until the following day.
  • Don’t crowd them and reduce the stimulation in the environment e.g. no people, low lights, quiet

If you think they might be experiencing some psychotic symptoms

  • Young people may experience some psychotic symptoms like hallucinations or extreme paranoia when they are substance affected or withdrawing 
  • Reduce things around them that may overload their senses and move them to safe, quite space
  • Monitor them and seek medical attention as required or directed

When hanging out, coming down or withdrawing

A young person also might become highly anxious and agitated when they are hanging out for drugs such as cannabis or heroin. This may escalate to aggression, particularly when there is interference from their goals. Consider other people in the environment and what they priorities at that time are.

On the other hand, this may be them experiencing strong cravings or urges which sometimes can be ‘ridden out’ with support and distraction. However, they may also be experiencing withdrawal symptoms. A young person may get through these with lots of support and distraction however in some cases they may need medical support so monitor symptoms and access appropriate support when appropriate.

Further Resources