The 3 golden rules for handling drunk patients

Is there anything more frustrating?

I've been assaulted by drunken patients more often than any other type of patient.

Sometimes there are warning signs; occasionally there are not. When the patient becomes that intoxicated, there is psychologically nothing to keep that person from staying in control. It really creates an unfair situation for EMS providers who are charged with managing the patient and prevent further harm from occurring.

Of course, that's small consolation when you are on the receiving end of a screaming, punching, biting and spitting drunk patient. It's all too easy to lose momentary control and become angry.

The next time you're in this situation, take a deep breath and remember these key points:

1. Don't take it personally. The patient is drunk, not you. You're the professional, so make sure you act like one regardless of what the situation may bring. The patient doesn't know you from Adam in his/her drunken state — and doesn't care. Ignore any insults that come your way. When in doubt, remember he is a patient, not a prisoner.

2. Make sure the patient is actually drunk. Be sure to check that there are no medical conditions that might be mimicking a drunken state.  

3. Use physical restraints. They are important, for your protection as well as that of the drunk patient. If you use them, make sure the patient's airway is protected. And keep yourself clean. Suction, emesis bag, and staying alert will help keep any vomit contained.  

About the author

Art Hsieh, MA, NRP teaches in Northern California at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. An EMS provider since 1982, Art has served as a line medic, supervisor and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a textbook writer, author of "EMT Exam for Dummies," has presented at conferences nationwide and continues to provide direct patient care regularly. Art is a member of the EMS1 Editorial Advisory Board. Contact Art at and connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.

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