Intoxicated behaviour

Intoxicated behaviour

Intoxicated behaviour can vary in a person from one episode to another, even when the same amount of alcohol and/or other drugs have been used. Intoxication can even change dramatically in the space of a few minutes. In some situations a person may appear to sober up or alternatively, become much more intoxicated, seemingly on the spot. This is because there is a powerful relationship between one's mood and expectations, the setting in which drug-use occurs and the properties of the drug itself. To understand intoxication we need to consider the issues related to the drug itself as well as the experience of drug use.

Zinberg's (1984) Interaction Model is a useful place to start when trying to understand the relationship between different factors that impact on the drug-using experience. The model identifies three factors: the drug (that is the properties of drug(s) consumed), the set (the individual characteristics of the user) and the setting (the environment in which the intoxication is occurring). In recent times the model has been adapted and the factors are often referred to as drug, individual and environment (see Diagram 1).

In this module, we will focus initially on the immediate issues you face when working with an intoxicated young person: the individual factors in the youth-focused systems model (see Diagram 2) and the factors which determine the drug-use experience. Later in the module, we will consider the broader factors in the systems model, especially in relation to post-intoxication harm-reduction interventions.

The important aspect of the model is the interaction of certain risk and protective factors related to the drug, the individual and the environment that impact on the harm caused by intoxication.

Diagram 1: Adapted from Zinberg's interaction model of drug use

Text equivalent below for Diagram 1: Adapted from Zinberg's interaction model of drug useTop of page

Text version of Diagram

The three components that lead to the drug use experience are:
  • the individual;
  • the environment; and
  • the drug.

Diagram 2: Youth focused systems approach

Text equivalent below for Diagram 2: Youth focused systems approach
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Text version of Diagram 2

This diagram shows the risk and protective factors that contribute to possible outcomes.

Possible outcomes include: nature of relationships; health and wellbeing; life opportunities (e.g. education and work); criminal and legal consequences; AOD use and related harm; social inclusion or marginalisation.

Risk and protective factors include:
    • Local community factors: population density; housing conditions; urban/rural area; neighbourhood violence and crime; cultural norms, identity and ethnic pride; opportunities for social development; recreational and support services; demographic and economic factors; connectedness or isolation.

    • School and peer factors: peer connectedness; school climate and culture; school attendance; opportunities for social connection; norms and values of peers and school; friendships and interests; educational approach/methods; school discipline and structure.

    • Individual characteristics: personality and intelligence; gender; cultural background; physical and mental health; social skills and self esteem; sexual behaviour/sexuality; alcohol and drug use; criminal involvement; living situation/homelessness; values and beliefs.

    • Family factors: abuse and neglect; family dysfunction; patterns of communication; family income/employment; parents' mental and physical health; consistency of connection; family values, beliefs and role models; family discipline and structure; extended/nuclear family; family size.

    • Societal and political issues: laws of society; socio-economic climate; availability of services; social values and norms; social/cultural practices and traditions; popular culture (e.g. movies and music); government ideology and policies; role of media and advertising.


  • A large proportion of all alcohol and other drug-related problems are due to intoxication.

  • Intoxication-related death (accident, overdose, self-harm) and injury is very high in young people.

  • A youth-focused systems approach can help identify some of the factors that may influence young people's experience of intoxication.

  • The drug, the individual and the environment interact to produce the drug-use experience.