Medical Care for Alcohol-Related Emergencies at the UHS Infirmary

Understanding what to do in an alcohol-related emergency and what kind of care is provided for intoxicated students at the UHS Infirmary is crucial for maintaining the health and safety of our community.

Learn more about:

What to do when Someone Drank too Much

Call 911 immediately if they have one or more of these four symptoms – remember “CUPS!”

  • C - Cold or clammy skin.
  • U - Unresponsive; you cannot wake them up by shaking them or calling their name.
  • P - Puking without waking up.
  • S - Slow or irregular breathing of less than 8 times per minutes or 10 seconds between breaths.

Seek help if the person does not have one of those four symptoms, but are displaying other concerning signs, including: vomiting while alert, injury, difficulty maintaining balance or eye contact, slurred speech or shortness of breath, or you are concerned for any other reason.

  • A sober individual should stay with the person while seeking help
  • If you are sure that the intoxicated person can walk unassisted, go with them to McCosh Health Center, where they will be assessed by our nursing staff. The Infirmary is open 24/7 during the academic year.
  • If they cannot safely walk unassisted (unsteady, or falling over) or if you are unsure about their ability to move safely, call 911. Tell them where you are, and stay with the intoxicated person until emergency responders arrive to help.  Public Safety (DPS) will respond to all emergency calls on the University campus and on Prospect Avenue.

To learn more about how DPS responds to safety calls, please visit their website.

Limits Matter offers more information on recognizing levels of intoxication and how to respond.

What Happens at the Infirmary for Intoxicated Students

Assessment and Care

Students who check into or are accompanied by friends or DPS to University Health Services for intoxication are seen in the Infirmary for after-hours care. Once in the Infirmary, our highly-experienced Infirmary nurses will take the following steps to evaluate the student:

  • Assess level of alertness
  • Assess vital signs and conduct a physical exam.
    • At this point, the decision may be made to immediately transport the student to the hospital Emergency Department (ED). Students will be transported via ambulance for the following reasons: seizure activity, inability to arouse or maintain their airway, severe head injury, aspiration. The determination of whether to transport via ambulance versus DPS depends on the ability of DPS to safely transport in their car and the acuity level of the presenting complaints, including the Breath Alcohol Level (BAL).
  • BAL will be checked, if it is determined based on previous criteria that it is safe for the student to continue to be evaluated and cared for in the Infirmary.
  • If the student’s BAL is greater than 0.08 mg/mL, the student will be admitted to the Infirmary and will remain until medically cleared for discharge. A BAL level greater than 0.3 mg/mL warrants transfer to the ED.

In addition to the initial basic medical evaluation, the Infirmary nurse will gather other health information, including health history, regular medications, and allergies. When asked about use of non-prescription medications or other psychoactive drugs, it is best if students answer honestly, because only with full and accurate information can we give safe medical care. This information is “protected health information” and will remain confidential.

Readiness for Discharge

The Infirmary nurse will confirm readiness for discharge the following morning/day based on the following criteria:

  • student’s level of alertness;
  • BAL (must be less than 0.08 mg/mL);
  • ability to walk unassisted, and;
  • toleration of food and drink.
Screening

The Infirmary nurse will also ask the student to complete an alcohol AUDIT, a screening of the student’s overall risk level from alcohol use habits.

Medical Evaluation

Next, the student will be evaluated by a UHS physician. The medical evaluation is evidence-informed and includes an assessment for possible injury and a review for potential risk factors for recurrence of alcohol intoxication.

  • Students who are admitted to McCosh for excessive alcohol intoxication may be referred to BASICS.  BASICS provides an opportunity for students to explore their alcohol and/or cannabis use in a supportive and nonjudgmental atmosphere. Students can also seek out BASICS support without a referral.
  • Students who are admitted to McCosh for very excessive and/or repeated alcohol intoxication may be referred to Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS). During a CPS consultation, the student and their counselor will discuss drinking patterns and other areas of psychological concern, as well as options that will help to reduce the risk of further high-risk behaviors. Learn more about CPS’ offerings.

Confidentiality

In accordance with the UHS confidentiality policy, UHS, including the Infirmary, does not routinely report on drug or alcohol use to University administrators. Our role is that of student health advocate. 

However, repeated admissions to McCosh that stem from high-risk substance use behavior may be reported to the Director of Student Life (for undergraduates) or the Graduate School Deans (for graduate students). Reports that are made to University administrators when there is a high degree of concern about a student’s alcohol use behaviors are intended to facilitate education and to try to ensure that students access resources to address these high-risk behavior patterns. These reports are NOT made for disciplinary purposes. Our priority will always be your health and safety.

If a student is on private health insurance (e.g., family’s health insurance), or if their SHP information is mailed to their home address, the primary insurance holder (i.e., parent, guardian, spouse) will receive information related to private medical services that may be needed to response to substance use difficulties (for example, copay costs for transportation to the local hospital). University Health Services will not contact a patient’s family without written consent unless under emergency circumstances where the patient’s life or the lives of others are in danger. Being admitted to McCosh alone will not produce charges to the student or their health insurance company.

The hospital Emergency Department (ED) is required to obtain consent to treat from a parent or guardian for any student who is under age 18. If a student is under 18, the ED will most likely will ask for a parent’s or guardian’s contact number from the student once they are conscious and cooperative. Alternatively, if a student is able to use their cell phone and has a Permission for Health Care of a Minor consent form uploaded into their MyUHS portal, they can show that form to the provider via their cell phone.

Princeton DPS routinely reports incidents of emergency response and transportation to Residential College staff and Graduate School Deans. Therefore, if a student is transported by DPS, their Director of Student Life or Dean will likely be in contact with that student for a health and safety check-in conversation. The DSL or Dean will know where the student has been transported and for what medical reason.

If you would like to know more about your college’s practices in the event of hospitalization, please reach out to your Director of Student Life or Dean.

University policy on seeking help for someone who is intoxicated

The “Alcohol Policy,” in Student Rights, Rules, and Responsibilities states “neither intoxication nor admission to UHS for intoxication will be grounds for disciplinary action. Contacting Public Safety for assistance in transporting a student in need of medical attention will not, in itself, lead to disciplinary action. Disciplinary action will occur only if other circumstances indicating a violation of University policy are observed.”  

In fact, “It is the immediate obligation of [students] in the presence of a severely intoxicated person to contact appropriate University or local medical or safety personnel (such as the Department of Public Safety, University Health Services [UHS] staff, local hospital staff, or local police or members of the rescue squad)… In such an instance, failure to call for assistance will be considered an especially serious violation of policy. In order to encourage calls for assistance, the University may offer leniency with respect to other violations which may come to light as a result of such calls, depending on the circumstances involved.”