What should I do if someone is becoming aggressive?
Using drugs can increase paranoid and irrational thoughts, mood swings, and irritability, amongst many other psychological side effects. Although most people who use drugs will not become violent or aggressive, the side effects of some drugs can make some individuals more likely to exhibit unusual and unpredictable behaviours.
When a person is intoxicated, or in early stages of withdrawal from a drug they may not be able to follow directions easily. While aggression is not a common side effect, when people do become aggressive this can increase the risk of harm to those around them. A person can also be at risk of physically hurting themselves due to the effects of intoxication or withdrawal. If this is happening to a young person in your care, it is important to protect yourself, and to try to limit the physical harm the young person can do to themselves.
If someone you suspect is under the influence of a drug becomes violent and aggressive, here are some steps to take:
- Try to remain calm, and speak in a calm, clear, and slow voice to the person. Try to avoid emotional or hostile language, which may prompt or exacerbate aggression. Say the person’s name, and reassure them that you are there to help. For example, “I can see how upset and angry you are right now, [person’s name]. I don’t mean to upset you, I care about you, and I just want to help you.” Other options include “how can I help you feel safe?”, “your behaviour is frightening me at the moment, and I’d really like to help.”
- Use an ‘open’ non-confrontational body stance, arms open, palms up, head lowered.
- Give the person some physical space to minimise their feelings of confinement. If possible, remove furniture or fittings that might be thrown from the person’s immediate path. Turn down the lights as people using drugs such as amphetamines (e.g. ice) are generally overstimulated, and this may help prevent further stimulation. Explain what you are doing, e.g., “I am just moving some things out of your way, so that you don’t hurt yourself.”
- Give the person time to think and respond. Slow things down as much as possible. When they speak, listen to what they say, agree with them or validate their feelings (e.g., “that must be really upsetting” or “if that happened to me, I’d feel the same way”). You don’t have to agree with the content of what they are saying, but you can focus on the obvious emotions that the person is displaying and respond to those.
- If the behaviour intensifies, give the person a choice to help them feel like they are still in control. For example, “if you continue like this, I’ll have to leave and call the police. But if you calm down, maybe we can find another way to help.”
If at any stage you feel like you need to leave, do so. Call the police (000) for help, and remove yourself from the situation. This is especially the case if your exit is blocked, if the person is already too hostile, unstable, fearful, or intoxicated to respond to you, is threatening you or others, or has a weapon.
For information about violence and aggression associated with ice (methamphetamine) use, visit the Cracks in the Ice information portal.
How should I respond after an aggressive incident?
Remember that, following a violent or aggressive incident, you will be feeling a range of emotions that will likely include anger, resentment, shock, extreme sadness, and worry. You may also feel like you have to appease the person from now on, or avoid them altogether, so as to minimise the chance of future aggression. Don’t forget that these are legitimate reactions to such a situation, and that you might also need some support to help you in the aftermath. You may like to refer to our Starting the Conversation factsheet for some ideas on how to address the issue with an individual, once the effects of intoxication or withdrawal have diminished.
- Firstly, it is important to choose a time when the person is not intoxicated, and when everyone is at their calmest.
- Be assertive in what you would like to say and allow the other person to speak about what has been happening for them.
- Target the conversation towards the problem behaviours, rather than the individual. Use “I” rather than “you” statements.
- Set rules and boundaries together regarding the individual’s behaviour, and be clear about the consequences of breaking these.
Making a safety plan
If you are concerned about the possibility of a loved one becoming violent or aggressive due to their use of alcohol or other drugs, it is important to have a safety plan. Making a safety plan does not prevent a crisis but it will help you to respond to crises and get to safety faster. Important aspects of a safety plan include:
- A list of important phone numbers in case you need to act fast. This may include the phone numbers for emergency services (000), emergency housing and domestic violence services, solicitors or legal aid, your local hospital or mental health crisis team and emergency medical centres, a neighbour or friend who lives nearby and someone who can help to care for any children or animals. Keep this list somewhere private, but easily accessible.
- Identifying a place where you can go to make a phone call without being overheard.
- Identifying somewhere safe where you and any loved ones can go if needed. This may be a family member’s or friend’s house.
- Keeping important documents, identification, bank details/cards and your mobile phone where you can get to them easily.