Traditionally, and in some jurisdictions currently, the circumstances of drunk tank occupants may vary widely, as to whether in fact intoxicated, whether willingly there, whether isolated to protect them from others, confined to protect others from them, or simply permitted to find shelter, and whether legally under arrest, charged with an offense, or neither. Those in need of more long-term treatment may be referred to a rehabilitation center.
In some countries of Europe, such modern institutions are known by names that may be translated as "sobering-up station" or similar.
In the Czech Republic the name is Protialkoholní záchytná stanice, colloquially Záchytka. The first such institution in Czechoslovakia was opened in 1951 by psychiatrist Jaroslav Skála; its first patient was a Russian naval engineer. During its first 30 years of service, Prague's sobering-up station treated over 180,000 people. Other facilities in the country treated over 1,000,000 people. During its peak in Czechoslovakia, there were over 63 such institutions.
In Estonia, kainestusmaja (sobering up house) exist in the biggest cities. Most of the clients there are brought forcefully by police to sober up if a person poses a threat to the public or themselves. One will not be released until sober (up to 24 hours).
In Poland drunk tanks or "sobering-up chambers" (Izba wytrzeźwień) exist in bigger cities (52 as of 2013), hosting a total of 300,000 people yearly. Being drunk by itself is not an offence. If police find a drunk person wandering near railroad tracks, or in a harsh weather, they'll try to return the person home. If the person is violent or a danger to others, they'll be sent to a drunk tank. These facilities charge fees just like hotels, usually the highest rates that are legal, which is why they are called "the most expensive hotel in town". As of 2019, the highest legal fee was 309,01 zl (~$80), for a max. of 24 hrs. Colloquially, these places are known as wytrzeźwiałka ("soberator").
Such institutions, known as Vytrezvitel (Russian: Вытрезвитель, literally a "soberator"), were introduced in 1904 in Tula, Russia, by Fedor Archangelskiy, a surgeon. The reason that Tula pioneered the issue, not St. Petersburg or Moscow, was because Tula Arms Plant weaponmakers were freezing to death in snowbanks on the backstreets of the city on a daily basis right after the salary was paid. The plant's management could not afford to lose their best and most skilled craftsmen, it took them a lot of time to substitute the departed, so they supported the effort. The Tsar's government didn't pay much attention to the Vytrezvitels, they were locally managed by municipal authorities and volunteers on their own discretion, because the unskilled workforce was so cheap that nobody really cared much about frozen and drowned drunks.
The Bolsheviks focused on their labour force and paid much attention to institutionalize the sobering procedures and all the people involved, to prevent drunk workers from freezing or drowning somewhere unsupervised, or causing other troubles. In 1940 the Vytrezvitels became state-run facilities, they were detached as separate units within the NKVD and later MVD structure, police patrols and DNDs, dispatched for their routine raids, collected drunks from the streets to police vans, moving them to Vytrezvitels and holding them in custody until they sober up, employing force if necessary. Rampant and disorderly drunks or otherwise inappropriately behaving persons, as well as DTs and alcohol- or narcotics-triggered mental cases were handed over to medical authorities, who had then and have now specially detailed medical personnel, whose primary mission is to neutralize, or subdue into submission, and drag disorderly drunks into a ward, and forcibly administer medications if required.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia issued a medal to commemorate the 70th anniversary of state-run Vytrezvitels.
In Sweden the sobering-up units are located at police stations around the country. Colloquially known as "fyllecell" or drunk cell, the cell is for holding people who are too intoxicated to take care of themselves or when their intoxication poses a danger to themselves or other people. Being drunk in public is not an offense in Sweden and does not lead to any charges, but repeat "offenders" can have their driver's license revoked.
In Switzerland, intoxicated persons can be placed into a sobering-up cell when they pose a danger to themselves or society. While public intoxication is not a crime per se, some police departments assess a fee for the use of their facilities and the related personnel costs incurred by the intoxicated party. For instance, the Zürich Stadtpolizei charges 450-600 Swiss francs for a night in the ZAB, or "Zürich Sobering-up and Supervision Site" (German: Zürcher Ausnüchterungs- und Betreuungsstelle), which is informally referred to as "Hotel Suff" ("Hotel Booze").
In the United Kingdom, the idea of privately run drunk tanks (or "welfare centres"), separate from police stations and funded by the penalties issued against those held there, was discussed in 2013 and gained support from the Association of Chief Police Officers. Mobile drunk tanks, also known as "booze buses", and officially as "alcohol recovery centres", have since been introduced in some cities (Bristol being the first to do so). Newcastle calls its bus a "safe haven van" and parks it next to St John Ambulance.
In the United States, the drunk tank was associated with unsafe conditions resulting in disability or death. Examples in San Francisco California and Los Angeles California show the dire conditions faced by intoxicated person. Since the early 1970s, the 'sobering center' has emerged to replace traditional drunk tanks. Run primarily by public institutions through city or county government or nonprofit organizations, the sobering center offers a safe place to sober from acute intoxication.
- Morris, Nigel (15 February 2012). "'Drunk tanks' and minimum prices to help Britain sober up". The Independent. Retrieved 16 February 2012.
- British lists
- Czechoslovak world
- Cichy, Sławomir. "Izba wytrzeźwień niczym hotel trzygwiazdkowy? Niezupełnie [ZOBACZ ZDJĘCIA]". Dziennikzachodni.pl (in Polish). Retrieved 2017-07-02.
- "Najdroższy "hotel" w Krakowie - jeszcze droższy". Onet Kraków (in Polish). 2014-05-08. Retrieved 2017-07-02.
- "Izba wytrzeźwień działa, a pijani nadal trafiają do szpitali. Dlaczego?". lublin.wyborcza.pl. 26 July 2016. Retrieved 2017-07-02.
- FM., RMF. "Izba wytrzeźwień - najdroższa noclegownia w Szczecinie". Retrieved 2017-07-02.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-08-25. Retrieved 2013-09-18.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "Im "Hotel Suff" übernachten viele Auswärtige". Tages-Anzeiger. 29 January 2017. Retrieved July 20, 2018.
- "Acpo issues 'drunk tanks' call to tackle disorder". BBC News, 18 September 2013.
- "Drunk tanks may become norm, NHS boss warns 'selfish' revellers". BBC News, 29 December 2017.
- "Emergency services join forces to keep Christmas partygoers safe". ITV News. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
- History of sobering-up stations (in Czech)