Behind the Mask: Drunk on Halloween

Does anonymity on Halloween lead to excessive partying?

Posted Oct 30, 2016

Halloween is one of those holidays that kids learn to love early on. The ability to put on a mask and pretend to be anything – a superhero, a king, or an evil troll – is magical and enticing. It’s everything a child wants and, for many of us, the fantasy lives long past our early years.

You don’t need a degree in psychology to realize this. All you need is to take a quick look through the costume racks of any major retailer. Sexy nurses, evil pirates, and caped crusaders welcome you at every turn. The ability to escape mundane life and spend at least one night as a character greater than yourself is almost too much to miss for so many. As the late Sociologist Nathan Joseph said, “the characteristic of a costume that differentiates it from all other forms of apparel is its open proclamation of departures in behavior.”[1]

Halloween and Alcohol

Indeed, research has shown that average alcohol consumption overall increases by about 30%[2] on Halloween and rises even more among college students who dressed up in costumes.[3] In the mixing of fantasy with alcohol and anonymity, there is a lot of release and little accountability. Even responsible adults forget that their alter-ego isn’t real and get carried away, but go too far and the consequences can be disastrous.

Last Halloween at a music festival in Southern California, 30 people were hospitalized for drug alcohol and drug overdoses. Emergency room departments across the country know to prepare for an onslaught of the injured and the intoxicated. In 2015 there were 30% more ER admission for adults on Halloween than there were on New Year's Eve [4]. While some have hurt themselves, others have been assaulted.

Halloween and violent behavior

Research in the city of Boston shows that crime spikes on Halloween evening, with a violent crime rate that is 50% higher compared to the average night. The roads are more dangerous too: nationwide pedestrians are 35% more likely to be hit by a car during Halloween week than the rest of the year, and It’s pretty clear that Halloween is also the holiday of ER visits, crime, and overall mayhem.

I’ve been part of this equation myself. At one point in my life I considered Halloween a cursed day that required I stay indoors and out of trouble. Why? On three consecutive Halloweens prior I was arrested twice and help-up at gunpoint once. Obviously it was far from my favorite night.

Yet we all know that Halloween can be a lot of fun, so the question is this: how can we enjoy Halloween while minimizing the odds the night will end in a jail cell or hospital bed? Lucky for you, we’re here to help.

How to have a safe Halloween

In the parlance of our treatment approach at Alternatives, we treat Halloween as a “high-risk” situation. And high-risk situations require some planning. Halloween is like a party on a national scale – there are many revelers and it’s hard to know who might be the source of risk. The key is to control as much as you can and have a plan in case things go sideways.

The first part of the plan should involve the actual events you’ll be attending. It always helps to know where you’re going if you want to know what you might be confronted with. Here is some information you’re going to want to think of:

How many parties? What sort of parties: house parties, clubs, and bars all present different challenges. How long are you looking to spend there and with whom?

By knowing where you’re going and setting time constraints for yourself, you can avoid a number of impromptu risks. By following these initial planning steps you’ll find your night follows a more deliberate plan and less will be able to derail your night.

Safer Intoxication on Halloween

Finally, there’s the question of intoxication. Many of those reading this article want to know how to intoxicate responsibly rather than to shun drugs and alcohol altogether. When it comes to this question there will, obviously, be individual variants. Still, there are some important rules to follow.

First of all, if you’re drinking alcohol, remember to mix in non-alcoholic drinks (ideally every other alcoholic one). Doing so while favoring lower concentration alcohol varieties (as in beer and wine versus hard spirits) will help ensure that you don’t get too drunk or end up blacking out. Avoiding an alcohol blackout will certainly help ensure that you do not wake up in a hospital bed or jail cell.

When it comes to drugs, the variation is obviously more complex. First of all, illicit drug suppliers (drug dealers) are not necessarily the most reliable sources of information about the drugs they sell and there is obviously no regulation whatsoever. This is probably the main problem with keeping drugs illegal. This means that you are not going to explicitly know what it is you’re buying unless you take some extreme measures. Chief among these is the possibility of buying a drug testing kit (link here) that can help distinguish what might be in that brown capsule you’re about to take. Additionally, there are very strict set of rules about drugs that you SHOULD NOT mix.

It’s important to note that most “overdose” deaths are actually brought on either by the mixing of drugs or by the taking of drugs that are different than those a person believed s/he was using. There are endless examples but some of the specific things to know are these:

  1. DO NOT mix downers with alcohol: benzos, opiates and alcohol should not be combined as this is one of the most common paths to an overdose death. (talk about examples)
  2. Opiates are often cut with stronger opiates to bolster their effect. Fentanyl, Carfentanyl and other compounds examples have caused dozens, if not hundreds, of deaths. If you use drugs in this category makes sure to test your supply before using.
  3. Start with a small dose - If you're going to use an illicit drug, start with a smaller dose than usual and see how it affects you. You'll be less likely to overdose and any extreme side-effects will be moderated.
  4. Don't use along and remember the good samaritan laws!!! Don't put yourself at risk by using alone; if you're health is compromised, you'll want someone there to help.

Halloween is an opportunity to let go and have fun, but remember to stay safe. What seems like a good decision in the moment—whether it’s having that extra shot, driving tipsy to the afterhours party, or taking a mysterious pill someone gives you—can have consequences in the long run.


[1] Joseph, N. (1986). Uniforms and nonuniforms: Communication through clothing. New York: Greenwood Press.

[2] Montealegre, L. E., Bass, E. J., Bruce, S. E., & Foster, H. A. (2011, April). Cavman, Wonder Woman, or too drunk to tell: An evaluation of the effectiveness of a Halloween social norms marketing campaign. In Systems and Information Engineering Design Symposium (SIEDS), 2011 IEEE (pp. 65-70).

[3] Miller, K. A., Jasper, C. R., & Hill, D. R. (1993). Dressing in costume and the use of alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs by college students. Adolescence, 28(109), 189.

[4] National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS). (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2016, from