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HomeHealth TopicAlcohol

How to Help Someone Who’s Drunk: Do’s, Don’ts, and When to Call 911

Emily Guarnotta, PsyDSarah Gupta, MD
Written by Emily Guarnotta, PsyD | Reviewed by Sarah Gupta, MD
Published on August 3, 2022

Key takeaways:

  • A person who is drunk may slur their words, act clumsy, and behave in a socially inappropriate way.

  • If a person is drunk, you can help by getting them to a safe place, lying them on their side, and staying with them.

  • An alcohol overdose is a serious condition that requires emergency medical attention. If you suspect someone is having an overdose, call 911 right away.

Close-up of a person handing their friend their car keys. They have been drinking and have a beer in their hand.
dusanpetkovic/iStock via Getty Images

If a person is showing signs of an alcohol overdose, you should seek emergency medical attention right away. Call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Alcohol is a chemical found in beer, liquor, and other beverages. It’s a central nervous system depressant that alters a person’s mood and behavior. 

People may drink alcohol to feel good, ease social anxiety, cope with stress, or to simply “get drunk.” Getting drunk or intoxicated is a feeling that people experience after drinking alcohol. In small amounts, alcohol can feel pleasurable. And remember that everyone’s tolerance for alcohol is different.

However, too much alcohol can cause unpleasant reactions, like irritability, aggression, and even physical illness. People also react to alcohol in different ways. Some people get drunk more quickly, and some take a longer time to recover.

If someone you know is drunk, you may be wondering what you should do. Read on to learn more about how to tell if someone is drunk, what to do, and how to find help for someone with a drinking problem.

How can you tell if someone is drunk?

Any amount of alcohol can affect a person’s mood and behavior. The degree to which alcohol affects a person will depend on factors like how much they drink, their tolerance, and biological sex.

When someone is drunk, they may show noticeable signs, like:

  • Slurring words

  • Talking excessively or very loudly

  • Saying things that don’t make sense

  • Being argumentative or aggressive

  • Acting inappropriately

  • Stumbling

  • Clumsiness

  • Inability to sit still

  • Changes in mood

  • Drowsiness

  • Smelling of alcohol

  • Frequent trips to the bathroom

  • Vomiting

A person who is drunk will often seem very different than when they are sober. If you notice a dramatic shift in a person’s mood and behavior, then they may be under the influence of alcohol.

How can you safely help someone who’s drunk?

First, ask yourself: Is this an emergency? To help someone that is drunk, you need to first determine if they are having an alcohol overdose (more below on what this looks like).

If you think there is any chance that someone is having an overdose, call 911 right away. A person experiencing an alcohol overdose needs emergency medical attention. There is no way that you can safely help them on your own.

If a person is drunk but not having an overdose, you can help them by:

  • Bringing them to a safe place: Do not allow them to drive or try to get home on their own. 

  • Discouraging them from drinking more: You cannot force the person to stop drinking, but you can try to discourage or distract them from consuming any more alcohol.

  • Having them lay in bed on their side: This will reduce the risk of choking if they vomit.

  • Staying with them to monitor their symptoms: Try to stay with the person so you can check on them frequently. Depending on how much alcohol they’ve had, and how quickly, their blood alcohol level could still be increasing — even if they’ve stopped drinking. Even if they are not showing signs of an overdose at the moment, this could change. If possible, stay with them until you can be sure that they are OK.

What should you NOT do when someone is drunk?

When trying to help someone who is drunk, do not:

  • Give them coffee, cannabis (marijuana), or any other substances as a way to sober up

  • Give them any food or liquids if they are vomiting or you suspect that they may vomit

  • Force them to vomit

  • Restrain them, or force them to do anything

  • Leave them alone

  • Let them drive home

Safety for everyone involved is most important. If you suspect that a drunk person is in danger or if your safety is at risk, seek emergency help immediately.

How can you help someone sober up?

The only thing that will help a person sober up is time. Many people claim that coffee, a shower, a large meal, or water will help, but this is not true.

To truly sober up, a person must stop drinking. A person will likely stop feeling drunk after several hours, even though alcohol may stay in the body for up to 24 hours.

When should you seek emergency care for someone who is drunk?

An alcohol overdose can happen when a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is so high that it begins to affect important functions like breathing and heart rate. It can be very dangerous and may lead to death or brain damage.

Signs of an alcohol overdose include:

  • Confusion

  • Difficulty staying awake or alert

  • Slow or irregular breathing

  • Pale or bluish skin

  • Low body temperature

  • Lack of gag reflex

  • Vomiting

  • Seizures

If a person is showing signs of an alcohol overdose, you should seek emergency medical attention right away. Call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

How long does alcohol stay in your system?

When you take a sip of alcohol, it begins making its way through your body. It starts at the stomach and then makes its way to the bloodstream and eventually the liver. Alcohol takes approximately 15 to 45 minutes to feel its effects.

After alcohol reaches its peak levels, your body starts breaking it down. Depending on how much you drink, you may notice the effects of alcohol wearing off after a few hours. But alcohol can remain in your bloodstream for around 6 hours. It can also be detected in your breath for up to 24 hours after you stop drinking and in your urine for up to 72 hours. During this time, you will no longer feel the pleasurable effects of alcohol. But you may notice signs of a hangover.

How can you help someone with an alcohol use disorder?

If someone you know is having a hard time controlling their drinking, and continuing to drink even though it causes significant problems in their life, they may have an alcohol use disorder.

Treatment for an alcohol use disorder can include medications to manage cravings and withdrawal, therapy, and self-help groups.

The following resources can help you help someone with an alcohol use disorder:

Additionally, self-help groups are available for people with alcohol use disorders and their loved ones:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous, a spiritually based self-help group for anyone with a desire to stop drinking

  • SMART Recovery, a self-empowering group for anyone wanting to learn strategies for abstaining from drugs and alcohol

  • Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS), a secular group for people recovering from alcohol, drug, and food addictions

  • Al-Anon, a support group for family and friends of people with an alcohol use disorder

The bottom line

When a person is drunk, the first thing you need to do is check for signs of an alcohol overdose. If they are overdosing, it’s a medical emergency — which means you should call 911 right away.

If a person is drunk but not having an overdose, you should help them get to a safe place, lie them down on their side, and remain with them if possible. It may take up to a day for alcohol to be completely eliminated from the body. In the meantime, the only thing that will help a person sober up is time.

If you or someone you know struggles with substance use, help is available. Call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) to learn about resources in your area.


Abbey, A., et al. (1993). The relationship between reasons for drinking alcohol and alcohol consumption: An interactional approach. Addictive Behaviors.

Al-Anon Family Groups. (n.d.). Home.

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Alcoholics Anonymous. (n.d.). Home.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Frequently asked questions: About alcohol.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Alcohol treatment navigator.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021). Hangovers.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021). Understanding the dangers of alcohol overdose.

Oregon Liquor & Cannabis Commission. (2022). 50 signs of visible intoxication.

Secular Organizations for Sobriety. (n.d.). Home.

SMART Recovery. (n.d.). Home.

Springfield College. (n.d.). Know the facts: Sobering up.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (n.d.). Behavioral health treatment services locator.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (n.d.). SAMHSA’s national helpline.

Washington University in St. Louis. (n.d.). Immediate care of an intoxicated person.

GoodRx Health has strict sourcing policies and relies on primary sources such as medical organizations, governmental agencies, academic institutions, and peer-reviewed scientific journals. Learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, thorough, and unbiased by reading our editorial guidelines.

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