When you have fun at a party, you also need to think about staying safe.
Staying safe means avoiding injury or assault, not hurting anyone else, and not ruining an event or property. In other words, it means being able to make good decisions.
Partying is a chance to meet people, share fun times and relax. But it is also a time to be careful. You may encounter risks from alcohol or other drug use (your own use or that of others).
These risks include drinking too much, alcohol poisoning, drug overdose, illegal drug use, drink spiking, drink driving, unsafe sex, sexual assault, other violence, injuries from falling over (or being pushed or hit), gate crashing, being arrested, and social media problems (such as photos of your drunken or sexual behaviour).
All these risks are immediate problems if a party gets out of hand. When you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you are not in control.
Risky partying can have long-term effects too. If you regularly drink too much or use party drugs, then you risk developing serious health conditions (cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, brain damage), memory loss or sexual dysfunction.
You also risk: engaging in unprotected sex (if your decision making skills are impaired while under the influence of alcohol or drugs), financial problems (if you spend a lot of your income on drugs), work or school problems (if you have a lot of time off to recover from hangovers), and the breakdown of your relationships with family and friends.
Alcohol at parties
Alcohol can make you feel confident and fearless, which can lead to poor decisions (such as unprotected sex or drink driving). It also slows your nervous system so you become uncoordinated, have slow reflexes, and have trouble thinking clearly.
So, how can you drink but stay safe?
- Drink water or soft drinks between alcoholic drinks. And think about drinking low alcohol drinks, and avoiding big glasses or bottles.
- Avoid sculling competitions or any drinking game.
- Remember to eat before and while drinking, because your body will take longer to absorb the alcohol.
- Count your standard drinks. Different drinks vary in their alcoholic strength (for example, low strength beer compared to spirits). Australian bars, clubs and pubs can serve drinks in different sizes – if you are unsure how many standard drinks a drink has, ask the bar staff.
- Remember, the size of drinks is different again at private functions. Wine glasses can hold much more than one standard drink, and mixed drinks such as cocktails and party punch may have an unknown amount of alcoholic content.
- Watch that no-one tops up your drink so you end up drinking more than you had intended, especially if you are counting your drinks.
- Never accept a drink from a stranger, and watch your drink to be sure no-one adds anything to it, such as alcohol or drugs. This is known as drink spiking, and it is illegal – whether it is done to cause harm, or as a joke.
- If you are feeling drunk or tipsy, switch to non-alcoholic drinks to give your body some time to process the alcohol you have drunk.
Most importantly, if you do not like alcohol, if you know that it makes you sick, or if you are driving, do not drink. You will still have a good time, and you may even have a better time than if you did drink.
Drugs at parties
Drugs change how your body and brain work.
If you are at a party, you may be offered cannabis, ecstasy, ice, cocaine, LSD or other illegal drugs. You may even be offered prescription medicines.
Taking any drug, especially when you are drinking alcohol, can be risky as you can’t predict how it will affect you. If you experience a bad reaction, you may not have someone who will know what to do and what help to give you.
There are also legal issues to consider; you can be arrested for possessing or distributing illegal drugs.
Never be pressured into doing that you don’t want to do or are unsure about.
Sex at parties when you’re drunk or drugged
Under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you might decide to hook up with someone. This may be a choice that you normally would not make, and it may lead to embarrassment or regret.
Worse, you might forget about safe sex and not use a condom. The result could be a pregnancy or the transfer of a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
If you have had unprotected sex while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at a party, and you are concerned about your health or possible pregnancy, talk to your GP.
If sex occurred without your consent, then this is sexual assault, and it is a crime. Call CASA (Centres Against Sexual Assault) for help and advice, on 1800 806 292. Or contact the Sexual Assault Crisis Line on 1800 806 292.
Also, be aware that even if you are feeling fine, your sexual partner may not be. If they are so drunk that they cannot really know what they’re doing, then you do not have their proper consent to have sex.
You should stop straight away or you may be committing sexual assault.
Violence at parties
Sometimes people lose control when they’re under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and they lash out.
Their violence may be aimed at one person, or a group. Or it may even be a general aggression that involves smashing glasses and punching walls.
However it is displayed, violence is scary for the people who see it, and dangerous for the people in its path. If you see someone being violent at a party, tell the host. If the host cannot get the person to leave, then they should call the police (000). In the meantime, try to avoid being near the person.
If you are hurt at a party, immediately tell your host, a friend or call your family. It’s important to have any medical care that you need, and to address any fear that you feel.
Is it me?
Maybe you become aggressive when you drink. If you think you need help, talk to a counsellor about your violent behaviour (such as Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14).
Have a plan for partying safely
If you intend to drink at parties, have a buddy. Your buddy should look out for you, and you should look out for them.
Don’t wander off once you start to drink. Stick with your trusted friends.
Have a plan for getting home too. And have a plan B in case your designated driver ends up drinking too much.
Also keep these two key tips in mind:
- Know how much you plan to drink, and stick to that amount. Order your own drinks, and keep watch over them.
- If you choose to take drugs at a party, let someone know what you’re using. If something goes wrong, you will have someone who can tell the ambulance about your drug use on the night.
If you are hosting the party
When you are the host, you have responsibility for other people as well as yourself. You need to think about crowd security and plan for emergencies.
If you don’t want people to use drugs at your party, let everyone know upfront. If you think strangers will come to your party, put ‘no drugs’ on any social media invites, spread the word verbally, and think about having someone at the entrance who can tell people as they arrive.
But, if you think the party will include drinking or drug use, then be prepared for anything to happen.
In particular, keep a list of important phone numbers ‒ 000 (ambulance, police, fire), your local police station, the nearest medical centre and taxi services ‒ in your mobile and near the home telephone. You can even register your party with your local police station.
And make sure you know how to deal with basic emergencies (such as small fires, cuts and bleeding, or broken limbs) until help arrives.
Underage party guests
If you are having a party, you need to make it a safe place for all your guests, particularly those who are under the legal drinking age (18 years). Arrange for a responsible adult (who is not drinking) to supervise the underage guests.
You can also help by not supplying alcohol to underage guests. And don’t let other people (such as older siblings) supply them.
Remember, the law does not allow an underage person to drink in a private household without the permission of their parents or legal guardian. The permission of other people’s parents does not count.
If you learn that an underage guest has been drinking, arrange safe transport home for them immediately. Let their parents or guardians know what has happened, so they can look for signs of a bad reaction to the alcohol.
Look out for your friends while partying
If you notice a friend is not well at a party, you need to check whether they are drunk or suffering from alcohol poisoning or drug overdose.
Call 000 (for ambulance) if your friend shows any of the following signs:
- mental confusion, passing out, coma
- seizures or shaking
- rolling eyes or staring eyes
- very slow or irregular breathing
- a low body temperature, paleness and blue skin.
You should also get immediate help if you think a friend has been assaulted. Your friend may not be conscious, or perhaps they cannot speak coherently, so you need to assess the situation.
If you think they need medical help, call 000 for an ambulance. Then advise the ambulance officers that you suspect an offence has been committed against your friend.
- When partying, plan how much you will drink. And have a friend help you stick to the plan.
- If you decide to take drugs, let someone know what you are taking, in case something goes wrong.
- If you have been drinking or taking drugs, don’t drive home. You may be past the legal limit (0.05 blood alcohol concentration ‒ BAC) after only two drinks. And, if you are a learner driver or probationary licence holder, then you must drink no alcohol at all if you are driving.
- If you suspect your ride home has been drinking or using drugs, organise another transport option and propose that the original driver makes other plans as well.
- Even if you sleep for a few hours after a late party, you may still have alcohol or drugs in your system that make it too risky to drive the next morning.
- Social media can make or break the safety of your party. If you are the host, make sure that your invitations do not reach strangers, and that your messages about alcohol and drugs are clear.
Where to get help