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How do I know when I can safely put a drunk person to bed?

“I have a question that I have thought of about taking care of a drunk friend. One of the things I recall you saying is to try to make sure they don’t fall unconscious and try to keep them awake if you possibly can. Some of the people I have looked after have wanted to go to bed, so I was wondering when is it a safe time for a drunk person to be put to bed and go to sleep without me watching them anymore?”

The practice of putting someone to bed to ‘sleep it off’ has been around for as long as alcohol has been consumed and most times the worst thing that happens is that the person wakes up the next morning feeling a little worse for wear or covered in their own vomit. That is not always the case, however, with some drunk people being sick through the night and ending up choking on their own vomit, or others simply stopping breathing due to the depressant effects of alcohol.

The reality is that many drunk people will want to go to bed, particularly if they have been feeling unwell for a while. There are three simple tests that a person looking after a drunk friend can use to see whether you are able to put them to bed and be reasonably sure that they will be safe:

  • Can the person walk? Just a few steps, not a marathon – if they can’t walk, they still need to be monitored closely. Putting them to bed at this time is not advised
  • Can they talk? They don’t need to have a quality conversation but you need to know that they can speak and let you know where they are, preferably in a language you can understand!
  • Can they answer a question? The best question to ask them is something like “What is your full name?” or “Where do you live?” If they don’t know what their name is or where they live, once again, it is not a good idea to put them to bed!If they can pass these simple tests, you should be able to put them to bed.

It is important, however, that you make sure you put them into bed in the recovery position (you can look at this YouTube video from St John Ambulance if you don’t know how to do this), and then put a folded pillow behind their back to ensure that they don’t roll back over through the night. Once you have got them into this safe position, it is still important to monitor them for at least 30mins to an hour, ensuring that they are breathing steadily, that they haven’t vomited or rolled over onto their back.

The major issue with looking after drunk people is that you can never be sure when they actually had their last drink, so you can’t know with any certainty that this is as ‘drunk’ as they’ll get. With that in mind, if you are considering put a drunk friend to bed, another good trick is to quickly take their pulse and then wait 10-15 minutes and take it again, making sure that it is now either steady or getting stronger (faster). If it is dropping that means there is still alcohol making its way to the brain and putting them to bed is potentially very dangerous.

First published: September 2016

Updated: March 2018

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