An alcohol emergency is a situation you can face whether or not you drink. A BAC above 0.06, what some call the "Red Zone," is where the negative effects of alcohol begin to set in. The effects range from slurred speech to death, increasing in severity as BAC increases. You may face one of these situations:
When you’re with someone who’s drunk, you don’t know if their condition will worsen.
- Their BAC may still be increasing, but you have no way of telling how much alcohol is in their system.
- It can be difficult to distinguish between “had too much and needs to stop before it gets worse” and “had too much and needs help ASAP.”
How you help depends on the person’s condition and where you are. When in doubt, it is best to err on the side of caution and call for emergency assistance.
If you are in the same locality as the person in the U.S., call 911 (on campus, 911 will connect to Public Safety). Off campus in the U.S., even in the town of Princeton, 911 will connect to local emergency dispatchers who will send local emergency responders, including police.
Know what to do when in different localities from the person of concern. Outside the U.S., be sure to know ahead of time what to do in an emergency.
Alcohol poisoning is a medical emergency.
Immediately call 911 or the equivalent if the person has one or more of these four symptoms (Remember to think of C-U-P-S):
C - Cold or clammy skin.
U - Unresponsive; you cannot wake them up by shaking them or calling their name.
P - Puking without waking up.
S - Slow or irregular breathing of less than 8 times per minutes or 10 seconds between breaths.
While you wait for emergency responders to arrive, if you can:
- Continue efforts to wake the person
- Make sure they are lying on their side in the recovery position to prevent choking on vomit.
- Closely monitor breathing and perform CPR if breathing stops. If you don’t know CPR, find someone who does.
While these symptoms may not be alcohol poisoning, they are still a cause for concern and it is best to call for emergency assistance:
- Throwing up
- Inability to maintain balance or eye contact
- Slurred speech
- Shortness of breath
- Abnormal body temperature
If you are with someone and you do not see the signs above that require immediate medical attention, you may see these signs of intoxication:
- They smell like alcohol
- Can’t perform normal tasks as easily as they can when sober e.g., can’t walk a straight line, spilling drinks, or fumbling with other objects
- More talkative or louder or softer than usual
- Unusual mood swings
- Inappropriate and out-of-character behavior
- Text messages that include drastic misspellings or are overly emotional
In these instances, remember these important guidelines and seek medical attention if their condition worsens:
- Prevent the person from drinking more.
- Stay with the person if it is safe for you. If the individual vomits, loses motor coordination, or is not coherent, Call 911.
- Do not assume that they will make it home safely, if they aren't already there. The full effect of the alcohol may not have hit yet.
- An unconscious person may not be sleeping; they may be suffering from alcohol poisoning. If they are lying down, if you can, put them in the recovery position. Call 911.
- If someone is stumbling or can’t walk on their own, walking them or carrying them somewhere increases the risk of injury for you and the person. Keep them in one place and call 911.
- If the person can walk on their own, you can walk with them to McCosh Health Center.
Remember that university policy and New Jersey State Law encourages calling for help when someone's had too much:
- You are obligated to call for help for a severely intoxicated person and will not be disciplined by the University for doing so.
- Neither intoxication nor admission to UHS for intoxication are grounds for University disciplinary action.
- In New Jersey, the Overdose Prevention Act and Lifeline Legislation provide some protections from civil and criminal liability for seeking medical attention for an overdose including for an underage person reporting an alcohol overdose. Students living in other states or countries should familiarize themselves with local laws.
Bookmark the Princeton UMatter Now mobile website on your phone's homescreen for easy, on-the-spot access.
- UMatter Now has great information about alcohol, as well as mental distress and unwanted sexual encounters, that can help you intervene quickly and safely.
If you are in a different locality from the person you are trying to help, the fastest response would happen if you look up the local law enforcement agency where the person is and call their regular number. If you do not know where the person is, then call Public Safety and they may be able to assist you.
Outside the U.S., be sure to know ahead of time what to do in an emergency.