When things go wrong

By  Alcohol Think Again     |    Updated: 12th May, 2017    |    7 min read

Sometimes when you go out things can go wrong, no matter how well planned the night was. Understanding why things can go wrong can help prevent them going wrong in the future. It is also important to know the steps to follow if something does go wrong.


There are lots of factors that can contribute to drunkenness. Some of these factors include:

  • Being inexperienced with drinking alcohol.
  • Strength of alcohol and the drink serving size. A standard drink contains 10 grams of alcohol. In Australia there are no common glass sizes so drink serving sizes can often be more than one standard drink.
  • Low tolerance to alcohol.
  • Lack of knowledge of the effects of alcohol.
  • Mixing alcohol and/or drugs.
  • The environment (a hot nightclub, at the beach).
  • How fast alcohol is consumed.
  • Physical, mental or emotional health.

If someone becomes unwell or collapses

If someone becomes unwell or collapses it is very important to treat it as an emergency and get help immediately. Don’t delay, you could save their life by getting help sooner rather than later:

What NOT to do in an emergency:

  • DON’T hesitate to call an ambulance in the hope that things will get better. Every second counts.
  • DON’T put the person in a bath, pool or throw water on them as they could choke or drown.
  • DON’T give them anything to drink if they are unconscious as this could cause them to choke or vomit. If a person has vomited there is a risk they may inhale vomit.
  • DON’T leave the person alone in case they stop breathing.
  • REMEMBER: The ambulance officers are only interested in helping. Police will not be contacted unless they feel threatened or if there is a death.

Getting help

Step 1: Getting the person into the recovery position.

The recovery position is a safe and stable position for someone who is unconscious or nearly unconscious. Sometimes when people have too much to drink they are likely to vomit and placing them in the recovery position will help to make sure they don’t choke on their vomit. When in the recovery position a person is in a balanced position on their side with their head supported. It is important to check a person in the recovery position is still breathing regularly, watch for chest rise and fall. If possible do not leave an unconscious person alone for too long. The recovery position ensures:

  1. the airway (mouth) is open and remains open.
  2. drainage can occur, in case of vomiting and choking.

Step 2: Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance from anywhere in Australia

It’s important to remember a few things during an emergency when you call an ambulance.

  • Remain calm and speak clearly.
  • Tell the operator what state you are calling from and your location including the street name and nearest intersection, if you know this.
  • Tell them what you think has happened.
  • They may ask you to tell them if the person has taken drugs, what drugs they have taken and how much. If you know, it is important to pass on this information so that your friend can be helped more quickly.
  • They may ask you what you have done before making the call.
  • The operator will tell you what to do next.

Step 3: While you wait for the ambulance

If the person is conscious and responding when you talk to them:

  • Take the person to a safe place where they are out of harm’s way, but don’t leave them alone.
  • Provide them water to sip slowly.
  • Stay calm.
  • Reassure them that what is happening will pass. It’s important to try to keep the person relaxed and calm.
  • Check that they are warm.

If the person is unconscious/not responding you may need to administer the St John Ambulance DRSABCD Action Plan.2

Danger – check for danger to you, the casualty and others.

Response – check if they are unconscious or conscious. Check for a response by asking for their name and squeezing their shoulders. If there is a response, begin to make the person comfortable, check for injuries and monitor response. If there is no response to your voice or your touch send for help.

Send for Help – If an ambulance hasn’t already been called, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance or if there is someone else present get them to make the call.

Airway – open the mouth and check for foreign material blocking the airway. If there is anything blocking the airway, place the person in the recovery position and scoop the mouth from top to bottom with two fingers. Open the airway by tilting the head with the chin lifted.

Breathing – check breathing by looking and feeling for chest movement. Listen for air coming out of the mouth and nose, the occasional gasp is not enough.
If the person is breathing normally place them in the recovery position and call triple zero (000) for an ambulance. Regularly check they are breathing until the ambulance arrives.
If the person is not breathing normally carefully roll them onto their back and commence CPR (Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation).

CPR – involves giving 30 chest compressions at a rate of 100 compressions per minute followed by ventilating the person by giving them 2 breaths.

Place the heel of the hand on the lower half of the breast bone in the centre of the chest with the other hand on top of the first hand. Press down 1/3 of the chest depth.

With the casualty lying on their back, open their airway by lifting the chin and tilting the head backwards. Take a breath then place your mouth over the casualty’s mouth, ensuring a good seal, then blow into their mouth for up to 1 second.

Turn your mouth away from the casualty’s mouth and watch for chest to fall. Maintain head tilt and chin lift and take another breath and repeat the sequence.
Continue CPR (30:2 ratio) until help arrives or the casualty recovers. You should aim for approximately 100 compressions per minute.

If the casualty starts to breathe, place them in the recovery position. Reassure them and cover them with a blanket if there is one available and if they are cold. Stay with them and check their breathing and signs of life every two minutes until the ambulance arrives. Remember – it’s important to keep doing CPR once you have started. DO NOT stop and start CPR. Continue CPR until help arrives, the person starts responding and breathing normally, or you are not able to continue.

Defibrillation – Apply an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) if there is one available and follow the voice prompts. Ensure that everyone is clear of the casualty before delivering the shock.

Step 4: When the ambulance leaves

Think about who might need to be called and who should make these calls.

  • Plan a way to get home or to the hospital safely.
  • Recognise that you have been dealing with a crisis. Witnessing and responding to an overdose can be very stressful. It’s not unusual to feel shocked or upset. Don’t be afraid to seek support now or anytime in the future from friends, family or a professional.


1 National Health and Medical Research Council. Frequently asked questions: Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Commonwealth of Australia. [online] 2009 [cited 2013 March 8]. Available from: URL: www.nhmrc.gov.au

2 St John Ambulance Australia (n.d). DRABCD action plan. available from URL: http://stjohn.org.au/assets/uploads/fact%20sheets/english/DRSABCD%20A4%20poster.pdf

Also check the related topics:  

Alcohol Safe Partying Schoolies Grog and Other Drugs

Factsheet provided by Alcohol Think Again


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