How to Deal with Intoxicated Patients

March 9, 2016
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Alcohol can make people do some pretty strange things. And while some of the byproducts of inebriation are amusing and harmless, others are quite serious. As a healthcare professional who works with emergency situations, you’re bound to run across patients who are both injured and drunk. It’s imperative that you understand how to deal with these situations.

5 Tips for Dealing with Intoxicated Patients

Alcohol can make people do some pretty strange things. And while some of the byproducts of inebriation are amusing and harmless, others are quite serious. As a healthcare professional who works with emergency situations, you’re bound to run across patients who are both injured and drunk. It’s imperative that you understand how to deal with these situations.

5 Tips for Dealing with Intoxicated Patients

While situations, rules, and requirements may differ depending on your position and the extent of the injury or illness the patient is dealing with, here are some helpful tips for handling these issues in a professional and responsible manner.

1. Don’t Take it Personal

Whatever you do, you cannot take it personal. If you’re in healthcare long enough, you’ll eventually be pushed, shoved, or insulted by an inebriated patient. Don’t let it get to you, though.

“The patient doesn’t know you from Adam in his/her drunken state — and doesn’t care,” writes Arthur Hsieh, who’s been assaulted multiple times by drunken patients. “Ignore any insults that come your way. When in doubt, remember he is a patient, not a prisoner.” The moment you take things personally is the moment you become unprofessional and put your job at risk.

While you’re certainly allowed to defend yourself in a situation that’s deemed disrespectful or violent, you should never be an aggressor. There is no place for aggression in an emergency medical situation.

2. Discuss Treatment Options

As soon as the patient sobers up, or if family members and friends are present, you should discuss the immediate injury or illness, as well as the drunkenness. Check the patient’s records to see if they have any history of alcohol abuse and ask the family to chime in with their own thoughts.

If alcohol abuse seems to be a prevalent issue, encourage the individual to get an alcohol screening and counseling. CDC statistics show that people who experience a brief alcohol screening and counseling may reduce their alcohol consumption by as much as 25 percent per occasion. Suggesting treatment may prevent emergency-related health issues in the future.

3. Use Physical Restraints When Necessary

In extreme situations, physical restraints may be necessary to keep an intoxicated patient subdued. “They are important, for your protection as well as that of the drunk patient,” Hsieh writes. “If you use them, make sure the patient’s airway is protected.”

Remember that the patient’s health comes first, which means you are allowed to physically restrain the patient in a reasonable manner. If you’re even worried about how much physical force you’re allowed to use, speak with your supervisor. They will inform you about proper protocol.

4. Make Sure the Patient is Actually Drunk

This is something you may not think about at the time, but it’s important to make sure the patient is actually drunk. There are a handful of conditions and issues that may mimic intoxication. The last thing you want to do is casually assume someone is intoxicated when there’s actually a bigger issue beneath the surface.

5. Don’t Discharge the Patient Until Sober

You should never discharge a patient until they are completely sober. Not only is this irresponsible, but it could potentially lead to legal issues down the road should the patient become injured upon leaving. Always wait until the patient is sober and ensure they are well enough to be discharged.

Dealing with Tough Patients

Patients can be tough – regardless of whether or not they’ve been drinking. Throw in an excessive amount of alcohol and they can become belligerent and violent. As a healthcare professional, you have a duty to care for patients regardless of how difficult they are. Sometimes this means using physical restraint and having challenging conversations. Do your best to fulfill your duty and don’t take it personal.