Intoxication and getting a body piercing, tattoo or any other body modification procedure should never mix. It should be a given but you would be surprised just how often it comes up and how surprised a majority of people are when I state that I will not pierce anyone who is intoxicated. It has always been a part of the release form and my consultation and one of the key questions that I cover when I go though the release form verbally. It may also be why I have the conversation as often as I do.
Why are people surprised? I think it might have something to do with how the body art industry has been portrayed on T.V. and in films. The body art studio is often in a terrible, seedy part of town. The artist are all associated with some kind of criminal activity and often they are either in the back of bar or in a neighborhood that is filled with bars. There is a sense that getting a piercing or a tattoo is some how a combination of danger and slumming it. So, it's easy for those new to the experience to assume that intoxication and drug uses is not only acceptable behavior but is encouraged.
It might also have more to do with that story we have all heard at some point in our childhood from one elder or another. It starts with I was drinking at a bar and ends with the next morning I woke up with a tattoo or a piercing with no idea why, how or when I got it. That some how sober there was no way this person would have done it. Which is a completely different topic of how western society has been using intoxication to justify unacceptable behavior or at least behavior that is not accepted in the present company, since the beginning of time. It could also be that during that period of time between the end of World War II and the body art renaissance of the 1990s, most of those with tattoos that would be considered a part of mainstream society, got their tattoos while in the military and often had some story involving being on leave in an exotic country and lot's alcohol.
The thing is that when you dig deep into what the motivation for getting intoxicated before getting a piecing, tattoo or whatever, it has great deal more to do with the fear of pain than accountability. Whenever I'm asked if there is anything that I'm going to use to deaden the pain, I explain that the only real effective way to deaden the pain would be to inject a nerve blocking medication in the form of a local anesthetic. The first problem with that is I'm not qualified to inject the drug, the second is that I can't legally prescribe the medication and the third problem is that the pain of a number of injections is a great deal more painful then a quick single injection of a piercing needle.
We have all seen the western where one of the main characters is shot or breaks a leg and the first thing old doctor Carter does is offer the Cowboy is a couple of slugs of gut rot to block the pain. So, maybe it's not surprising for many to assume that some how self medicating is not only going to boost their nerves with false courage but also limit greatly the amount of pain they are going to experience. Pain like any experience is greatly effected by how your brain perceives the sensation. Most of the intoxicants that are available are all amplifiers that only increase your brains perception. So, if it is a good experience it will be a great one, if it's a uncomfortable experience it will become the worst of your life.
The only thing that is really going to make a piercing less painful is the experience and skill of the one doing the piercing. Those with less experience tend to not perform piercings smothly and quickly which only increases the discomfort that the piercee experiences.
Fear and Anxiety:
Intoxication for most will cause one to experience a false feeling of calm or fearfulness. The reality is that it your own belief that it will have these affects on you that it does. As I mentioned before intoxication amplifies the experience but it also amplifies your emotional state. Also the more intoxicated you are the more rapidly these mental states can change. It's not uncommon for a client to state, "I was perfectly claim until I got into the chair." It's like suddenly the mind has come to the conclusion that the new experience has become a reality. Even the most determined of individual may find over coming this sudden fear the most difficult part of the whole experience. Often they will state after the piercing is over that the piercing itself was not nearly as bad as overcoming the second thoughts that suddenly took hold of them a few seconds before the piercing itself. If you add intoxication to that fear and anxiety it will be amplified and a great deal harder to overcome.
There is a cultural belief that one is more creative when intoxicated. This comes down to a combination of the reduction of inhibitions, the reduction of rational thought and the amplification of emotions. It is like one's imagination is on over drive. The problem is since our ability for critical thought is also reduce, we may feel like we are a creative genus but the product of our creativity is often embracingly terrible and something that a sober version of ourselves would quickly reject as unusable. As a writer, there have been more than a few times that I have came up with something I thought was brilliant after a few beers, only to find in the next day that it is complete garbage. The problem with out of control imagination and getting a piercing, is that fear is fueled often completely by imagination. The more your imagination is over drive and not held in check by rational thought the more anxiety you will have about getting the piercing.
Comprehension, Focus, Decision Making and Retaining Information:
When one is intoxicated their ability for rational thought, focus, comprehension of information and memory are all impeded. I have always felt that one of my main responsibilities as a professional piercing is to educate my clients. This includes giving them enough information in the pre-piercing consultation that they can make an educated decision on whether or not to get the piecing in the first place. Then after the piercing is done, enough information to heal the piercing with little or no problems at all. The problem with piercing someone who is intoxicated is that they can't focus or retain the information. Even if they retain the information often they don't fully comprehend it and can not make an educated decision. Those decisions can involve work, sports, vacations, clothing, sleeping, diet, and countless other things that even stone sober clients wouldn't have considered if I didn't bring it to their attention.
Often some of the signs that someone is intoxicated during the consultation is they will try to rush me through the consultation, seem uninterested in what I'm saying, interrupt me a number of time and change the subject a number of times. All of these are red flags that they maybe intoxicated and I may have to refuse to pierce them. However, from time to time these can also be signs of anxiety. It's why I will usually slow down the conversation and make sure that they clearly understand what I'm saying. Someone that is nervous about the piercing will usually begin to relax while someone that is intoxicated will usually become irritated and increasingly less involve and focused. This behavior will only continue through the piercing procedure and the explanation of aftercare. Sure my aftercare instruction sheet is detailed but the reality is that even if they don't lose the sheet, there are points that can be brought up in a verbal explanation that can't on a two page document. It's why I feel the consultation on aftercare is so important. If I tried to write everything down that I cover in that five or so minutes, my aftercare sheet would be close to 10 pages long.
Health and Safety:
With any piercing there are risks involved but with intoxication there are a number of rinks that wouldn't be there if the intoxicant was not involved. When someone is under the influence they often act differently but they all tend to be more animated. It's like they have what my mother would say when I was a child when I couldn't sit still, "He's got the Saint Vitus dance" or "Ants in his pants". Intoxicated people to with their hands, unknowingly move and have unpredictable sudden outburst of movement. When you have a sharp object in your hand and you are trying to inject it into a tight confined area while avoiding puncturing yourself, sudden and unpredictable movements are dangerous. Often these can be in reaction to the piercing happening just as the needle enters the body or right after the piercing is done. This can cause the needle to puncture or damage the tissue around the piercing or cause the need to puncture the skin of the piercer and cause an exchange of bloodily fluids. Thus causing the introduction of a foreign pathogen to the piercer or piercee.
Since most intoxicants Either thin the blood or effect blood pressure, there is the risk of the blood not clotting. There is a misconception that piercings, "when done right" do not bleed. The truth is that all piercings bleed to some degree. Areas of the body where there is more blood supply can bleed off and on for a matter of a few days. Being intoxicated during the piercing or even before hand could result in a situation where the wound will refuse to clot and bleeding can continue much longer than normal. This may require medical attention is the wound doesn't clot to avoid obsessive blood loss. It can also increase the exposure that the piercer and their clientss have to the blood and foreign pathogens the piercee is carrying. There is also the issue that intoxicants effect the body's immune system. There is an increased risk to infection if the wound doesn't seal or the piercee abuses drugs and alcohol during the healing period.
The intoxicated person is also at an increased risk to nausea, light headiness and passing out. Though usually this will pass without leading to additional health risks, there is always a risk that the sudden drop in blood pressure combined with the effects of the intoxicants could lead to a much more dangerous situation.
Effects of Alcohol Intoxication:
There are a number of factors involved with how intoxicated a person becomes. from the type of alcoholic beverage to the how the person's body reacts to alcohol to the person's tolerance. Even beverages a type or style can often cause varying results. Factors like whether the beverages is carbonated can greatly effect the level and quickness of intoxication. It's why the old idea of one drink an hour or one beer an hour is not a good way to judge intoxication or control it. Beer for example can range in alcohol percentage from as low as 0.05% to as high as 15% and since the condition of the fermentation can vary one batch can often turn out to have a slightly high percentage than another.
Alcohol depresses the central nervous system which decreases motor skills, reaction and one's balance. It is one of the reasons that someone who is drunk will sway because the body is trying to find a balance point. Decision making skills are increase impaired with the level of intoxication as well as short term memory and emotional state.
Alcohol as I mentioned earlier also thins the blood and reduces the blood's ability to clot. Since alcohol stays in your system for a period of time after intoxication, even on the day after a night of heavy drinking there might be issues with the blood clotting. Also, alcohol consumption greatly effects the immune system and heavy drinking while healing a piercing increases the risks to infection and prolonged healing.
Effects of Cannibals Intoxication and Other Schedule 1 Controlled Substances:
I've included marijuana because there is so much misinformation about the effect of it's use. This is in part because most of the study of it's effects have been conducted with an agenda involve. Since a majority of cannabis that is ingested in the United State is not obtained through legal means. The reason that this is of concern is that like all legal industries on the black market, the focus is on increasing profit with no concern to the health of the user. The fact that it is unregulated increases the likelihood of other controlled substances being added without the knowledge of the user. Also there is no limits or conditions placed on the potency of the drug. Thus there is no way for a user to know just how intoxicated they are.
Since the mid 60s there has been a belief that connabis intoxication is less of a health risk and doesn't effect behanior as much as alcohol intoxication. The idea that it's is a simple plant that hasn't been altered or refined and thus is safer is unfounded. Nightshade is a plant and hasn't been altered or refined but it is still poisin and will kill you. The facts are that even the most pro-cannabis researchers have admitted that the drug has a number of side effects from both short term and long term use.
From the stand point of being under the influence while getting a piercing the issues are often the same as it is with alcohol. Issues of suppressed comprehension, rational thought, short term memory, etc.. However, with cannibals there is the hyper amplification of anxiety, emotional state and both the emotional and physical experience. In addition, the user can experience disassociation where they feel that they are experience the event as a third party. All of these can lead to horrifying emotional experience including a panic attack. Even under the best conditions there is always a level of fear, anxiety and stress involved in the piercing experience but when someone is under the influence of cannibals these are often amplified beyond reason and increase the risk of light headedness and passing out.
Cannibals intoxication can effect muscle control and make even something as simple as standing at attention or sitting upright a challenge. This can greatly effect the placement of the piercing and put both the piercer and piercee's safety at risk. Recent studies have also pointed to the effect cannabis intoxication has on the users blood pressure and the increased risk to heart disease. When you add the emotion amplification and even the normal stress of getting a piercing, there is a risk for a heart attack. This is especially true of long term users and those with preexisting heart conditions or a family history of heart disease.
A Majority of other controlled and uncontrolled substances exhibit many of the same side effects with additional side effects. The point is that no form of intoxication is going to improve the piercing experience.
I'm not a physician or a pharmacist. If you are ever concerned about how a medication that you are prescribed will effect getting or healing a piercing, you should consult your doctor or pharmacist before hand. They are a great deal more educated with the effects and side effects of your medication than any professional piercer will be. The same goes for any medical conditions that you may have.
That said there are some medications that I would not suggest getting a piercing while you are under the influence of. The biggest one would be Anticoagulant medications commonly called blood thinners like Warfarin also known as Coumadin, Heparin, Lovenox, Fragmin Eliquis, Pradaxa, and Xarelto. If you are unsure ask your doctor or pharmacist but often if you are taking medication to prevent blood clotting or stroke, it maybe an Anticoagulant medication. The main concern is that the blood will not clot once the piercing is done.
If you are taking an antibiotics you should avoid getting piercings in areas where aftercare may cause a bacterial imbalance and fungal outgrowth. These would include oral piercings and genital piercings. The issue is that the antibiotics has already reduced the population probiotics, then through proper cleaning or rinsing, the bacteria population is reduced to a level which can lead to a bacterial imbalance. In the mouth this can result in an outgrowth of thrush and the genitals a fungal infection or UTI. I would suggest waiting at least a week after stopping to the medication before getting an oral or genital piercing.
Other medication may have additional side effects that you are unaware of but some of the key things to look for is blood loss or impairment of blood to clot, decrease in motor skills, impaired rational thought, anxiety, impairment of the immune system or scarring.
The truth is that no form of intoxication is going to make your piercing experience better. In fact in most cases it will make what might have been a somewhat pleasurable experience a nightmare. A skill professional piercer will patiently walk you through the piecing procedure and try to the experience as painless as possible. Getting a piercing should be a somewhat fun and entertaining experience in an environment that makes you feel safe. Maybe instead of trying to get intoxicated to deaden yourself to the experience, you should simply try to find a Piercer that makes you feel comfortable and is willing to go out of their way to share his knowledge and love of piercing with you.
DaVo's Piercing Blog
Sections of the Site