Ethical question...give their alcohol back or not?

  1. Your patient is in your hospital department because they are either drunk (ER) or admitted for DT's (floor). You or a co-worker find a bottle of alcohol in your patients belongings. Do you:

    A) Keep it with the patient's belongings. It is their property and you have no right to dictate what happens to it other than to treat it like any of their other belongings.

    B) Empty whatever is left in the bottle and throw it away. Your patient obviously has an alcohol problem and it is your responsibility to see to it that they abstain whether they like it or not.

    Would love your input!
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    About ERnurse2001

    Joined: Jun '10; Posts: 6; Likes: 4

    56 Comments

  3. by   jt43
    If they are over 21, I would encourage the patient to dump it out themselves.
  4. by   ERnurse2001
    I would too, but that's not quite the question I'm asking...
    Last edit by ERnurse2001 on Sep 21, '12 : Reason: re-worded
  5. by   jt43
    Ok, strictly speaking, if they are over 21 I wouldn't throw it out without their consent. I would give it (with their permission) to a family member to "take home". Not sure what my hospital's policy is about having alcohol in the hospital. I suspect it either has to be put in the safe or thrown away. If there's a policy to throw it away, I would do that. From a strict ethical standpoint, I think it's their property.
  6. by   ERnurse2001
    My opinion is to keep it @ the desk and give it back when the pt. is sober. I have seen staff dump it and throw it away which I tend to disagree with. I am always interested in ethical debates. Thank you for your input!
  7. by   JBudd
    We give it to security, who dumps it out. Often the police bring guys in, they dump it out too. Don't need people getting drunk in the ER or on the floors; we are already treated as a hotel with frequent demands for food/blankets/juice/whatever. Its a safety issue.

    Don't give back partial bottles of pills to the ODs either. People aren't allowed to keep meds at bedside without a doctor's order (are catelogued and sent to pharmacy if not sent home).
  8. by   RNewbie
    Depends on policy, but I would try and lock it up the same way we do pts home meds that they can't keep at bedside. They can get it upon discharge.
  9. by   RNonthelake
    I take the alcohol away and lock it up and then inform the patient that he may ask for it when he/she is discharged. I put it on the belonging list and indicate that it was stored separating from the main belongings. Almost 99% of the time the patient sobers up and is discharged from the ER and has no recollection of the conversation and never asks for the alcohol back. I usually wait for about an hour after discharge and then dump it out.
  10. by   montecarlo64
    No order, no bottle. Should be no different than any other substance. I do not agree with giving it back upon discharge. If the guy drinks the booze you gave him & then commits a crime (such as manslaughter by driving drunk), I would be afraid of a liability issue. I would not want to be any part of that. Bars and other establishments have been sued for over-serving. I think it is irresponsible to hand over a bottle of liquor to a KNOWN drinker and/or substance abuser.
  11. by   imintrouble
    I would remove it from the pt's room just as I would a bottle of meds. Then I would return the pt's property, just as I would the bottle of meds.
    Alcohol is not illegal. What reason would I have to not return a pt's possessions?
  12. by   Kyrshamarks
    The alcohol is his personal property, and not returning it or throwing it out in unethical and tantamount to stealing their property. If he had a shirt on that you did not like or found offensive, would you throw that out? I doubt it, the alcohol is the same way.
  13. by   AngelfireRN
    I agree with the above posters...it's not illegal, and it's their property. It belongs to them, thus it should be returned upon discharge.
  14. by   Wet Noodle
    Quote from montecarlo64
    No order, no bottle. Should be no different than any other substance.
    Do you dispose of all legal property a patient comes in with? A bottle of ibuprofen? A bottle of $100-per-pill chemotherapy drugs? Is that your facility's policy?

    Quote from montecarlo64
    I do not agree with giving it back upon discharge.
    What if you give the guy his belt back, and he uses it to assault someone the next week?

    Quote from montecarlo64
    If the guy drinks the booze you gave him & then commits a crime (such as manslaughter by driving drunk), I would be afraid of a liability issue. I would not want to be any part of that. Bars and other establishments have been sued for over-serving. I think it is irresponsible to hand over a bottle of liquor to a KNOWN drinker and/or substance abuser.
    Has a liquor store been successfully sued for selling someone a bottle of liquor, when the person they sold it to was of legal age and completely sober? If so, we're back in prohibition.

    What would you do if someone checked into the hospital with a pistol, for which he had a permit? Would you keep that as well, lest he shoot someone with it after discharge?

    If I were you I'd be more concerned about getting sued for theft of property.

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