We got a problem with this slunt, Ingrid, again. She’s off her brake fluid. Banging her head against the wall.

Is there another meaning of 'brake fluid'?

The speaker is a prison officer. And there isn't any other context.

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    From the minimal context, maybe off her meds? – nnnnnn Oct 21 '19 at 9:48
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    I had a friend who was addicted to brake fluid; he said he could stop any time he wanted to. – Eric Lippert Oct 21 '19 at 18:59

Given the context you have cited it is likely that it means 'off her medication'.

Without brake fluid your vehicle would be out of control, with nothing to slow you down so that you can drive sensibly.

Ingrid is likely meant to be on medication which in some way 'slows her down', whether that is anti-psychotics, medication for ADHD etc. Those medications provide chemicals that the body is otherwise lacking in some way, as you top up brake fluid when there isn't enough to do the job, they are taken to top up your natural supplies.

This may be supported by this analogy used by Joseph M. Carver, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist, in The “Chemical Imbalance” in Mental Health Problems

As we discovered more about neurotransmitters, we began to identify which neurotransmitters controlled certain bodily functions or which were related to certain emotional/psychiatric difficulties. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, was found to be related to body temperature and the onset of sleep. Research also identified Serotonin as related to depression and later to a variety of mental health conditions such as anorexia and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

As research in neurotransmitters continued, studies between neurotransmitters and mental conditions revealed a strong connection between amounts of certain neurotransmitters in the brain and the presence of specific psychiatric conditions. Using an everyday example, our automobile operates by using a variety of fluids such as engine oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, and coolant (anti-freeze). Every automobile has a way to measure the levels or amounts of each of these needed liquids such as the dipstick for oil and transmission fluid and marked indicators for anti-freeze and brake-fluid levels. Using our dipstick to measure engine oil, for an example, we can find our engine to be found one, two, or even three quarts low. After a recent oil change, the dipstick may also tell us that we have excessive oil in the engine. To work properly, all fluid levels must be in the “normal range” as indicated by the dipstick. When we receive a blood test, values of certain blood components are given with the “normal range” also provided, indicating if a blood chemical is below or above the average range.

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  • Wow, thank you so much. it helped a lot! – DayDreaming Oct 21 '19 at 9:55
  • More appropriate over on lit and pretty OB, but it would be ungracious not to say what a good answer this is. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 21 '19 at 10:11
  • @EdwinAshworth Many thanks. I hadn't considered the source, but having looked it up...does Law and Order Special Victims Unit count as Literature? – Spagirl Oct 21 '19 at 12:19
  • High praise from Edwin! – marcellothearcane Oct 21 '19 at 12:31
  • I believe it does when it's a TV show. Someone writes the script (or at least transcribes it). But, as when looking at poetry and song lyrics, non-standard / unconventional / cant usages are often across the border from ELU and into Lit. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 21 '19 at 15:46

From Prison Slang Glossary

Brake Fluid: Psychiatric meds
(informal 'meds' = prescribed medication)

I think it's safe to assume the metaphoric allusion is to the fact that the relevant effect of such medication is tranquilizing mentally / physically hyperactive detainees (who need to be slowed / calmed down).

UK prison guards (and psychiatric nurses working in detention facilities for the criminally insane) also use the term liquid cosh to refer to major tranquillizers used to calm rebellious or ‘difficult’ prisoners.

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  • 1
    Might Also be an allusion to a Mental Break – Neuromancer Oct 21 '19 at 19:06
  • I think that the difference between your answer as mine is in the interpretation of the function of the meds. You seem to suggest that their purpose is to render someone more controllable, while I think their function is to allow a person to better control themselves, which is not the same as a chemical cosh. – Spagirl Oct 21 '19 at 19:29
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    If you're going to bring it up at all, it might be useful to note in the answer that a "cosh" is another word for a bludgeon or nightstick. As an AmE speaker, the link provided did nothing to alleviate my confusion over the term or why it would be a synonym. – jmbpiano Oct 21 '19 at 19:31
  • Wow, I don't know any of this cant! – tchrist Oct 21 '19 at 23:20
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    @tchrist: I'd never heard this metaphoric brake fluid usage before the question came up, but the meaning was immediately obvious to me. I was familiar with liquid cosh from a friend who worked at Broadmoor (UK facility for the criminally insane). It would appear from comments above that at least some people think I shouldn't make too close a connection between the two ("caring nurses" administer therapeutic "brake fluid"; but "heartless jailers" use a restraining "liquid cosh"?), but for my my money (and the votes here, it seems), they're at least "related" metaphoric usages.. – FumbleFingers Oct 22 '19 at 12:21

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