The BBC discovered that there were more than 2,600 reports of drinks being spiked in the UK between 2015 and 2019. 72% of those spiked were women and around 10% were those under 18 years. And in 2021, 25 people reported being spiked each week. Despite knowing these statistics, it is difficult to know the real extent of this growing problem. Many people who have been spiked don’t remember what happened or are too scared to report incidents, making it likely that the real number is unfortunately much higher. There is no question that having your drink spiked is a scary experience, and so it is important to recognise how to tell if your drink has been spiked, or if someone else has been spiked, and how to protect against it.
What is drink spiking?
Drink spiking is when someone either puts alcohol or drugs into another person’s drink without their knowledge or consent.
According to the NHS, alcohol is used more commonly to spike drinks, with shots of alcohol being added to make drinks stronger and cause someone to get drunk quicker than expected.
Rohypnol (or Roofie) and Gamma Hydroxybutyrate (GHB) are the most common ‘date rape’ drugs. In some cases, recreational drugs such as Ecstasy, Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD), Ketamine can also be used to spike drinks. Mixing alcohol and drugs is often done with the intention of committing physical and sexual assaults, as the combination will sedate or incapacitate someone to make them vulnerable.
How to tell if my drink has been spiked
What makes these drugs so dangerous is that they are odourless, colourless and tasteless, and will leave your body within 72 hours; this makes them much harder to detect. The effects of being spiked will also differ depending on the drink the drugs have been mixed in with, the dosage, your size and weight, and how much alcohol you have already consumed. However, some of the most common symptoms experienced include: lowered inhibitions, loss of balance, visual problems, confusion, nausea, vomiting and unconsciousness. These symptoms can take effect within 15-30 minutes, and can last up to several hours.
Some of the ways to tell if your drink has been spiked include:
1. Flakey ice
If you have ice in your drink, they may be dust or flecks visible on the ice cubes immediately after drugs have been added to your drink. If you suspect that something has happened, it is worth checking.
You may also see some murkiness or cloudiness in your drink. It may be hard to see (especially in a dark club), but any visible difference may show that you’ve been spiked. This will only work if the drug used is not water-soluble.
3. Check for blue
Rohypnol, one of the most commonly used and known date-rape drugs, has changed a lot of their pills from a white pill to a blue capulet that changes clear or light liquids blue. This will not work in darker drinks, however, and not all brands made this change.
Make sure you are aware of what symptoms come with date-rape drugs. You may feel dizzy, confused, nauseous, tired and paranoid, and you may hallucinate, struggle to walk and have blurred vision. If you feel any of this, immediately go to the bar, a bouncer, a friend, or phone 111 or 999. Avoid strangers, and make sure you are somewhere safe.
How to protect yourself against being spiked
We write this segment of the piece with tentativeness, as we believe that it should not be on possible victims of drink spiking to take responsibility and go the extra mile to stop perpetrators. We cannot solve an issue by simply challenging its symptoms. Instead, we need to understand and tackle the root cause, which ultimately takes us to educating and changing perceptions around topics of sexual assault, entitlement, discrimination and consent.
At the same time, whilst we can only stress that having your drink spiked is never your fault, there are some measures that one can take to protect themselves. Once again, these measures should not be used by potential victims as a way to ‘discreetly’ keep themselves from being spiked, as this misses the point. There needs to be a shift in the systematic responses of preventative measures as well as in the root cause. This comes with the need for everyone to unapologetically and loudly confront and report dangerous behaviours around drink spiking.
Try to never leave your or your friend’s drinks unattended, and in the case that you have to, do not go back and drink from the same drink. Do not accept drinks from someone you do not know, but in the case that you do, always go with them to watch the bartender serve the drinks, so you can be wary of drinks you did not request. If you are drinking out of a glass, it is good to get into the habit of always covering the top with your hand to stop anyone slipping anything in.
Here’s some key things you can do:
1. Don’t leave your drink unattended
One way to make sure that nobody can put anything in your drink is to not leave it anywhere. Whilst dancing with your drink might feel like a lot of effort, it is much better to do that than risk getting assaulted. Be sensible and keep your drink on you, or with a trustworthy friend, at all times.
2. Do not accept drinks from people you don’t know
We have all been offered a drink before, and a lot of the time the person offering is likely harmless. However, one way to help protect yourself from getting spiked is to not accept any drinks from strangers. If you do want to accept the drink, go with them to the bar and watch the bartender make it.
3. Watch your drinks being made
Like we said above, make sure you are there when you get your drinks. Don’t leave it to your friends, in case they don’t watch. Make sure you can see your drink being made, and that way, you’ll know what is in it.
4. Cover your cup with your hand
When you’re dancing, or standing at the bar, hold your cup by the top and cover the opening with your hand. If you’re drinking from a bottle, cover the hole with your thumb. This stops anyone from dropping anything in when you’re not paying attention.
5. Purchase a cup cover
It is also worth asking the bartenders whether they stock drink stoppers to cover the top of your bottle or glass as a way to prevent someone putting anything in your drink. If you want to have some guaranteed peace of mind when you go out by always bringing your own drink stopper, you can order packs of them at really cheap prices. They usually roll up into a scrunchie and are easy to carry around or on your wrist.
As well as these drink stoppers, there are some other products designed for you to be able to identify if you have been spiked with drugs. The Xantus Drinkcheck Band, for example, is a wristband that detects whether your drink contains any GHB. If the test areas go blue after placing a few drops of your drink, it has tested positive for the drug. An important thing to remember with these tests are that they only detect drugs and not alcohol used to spike.
What to do if you’ve been spiked
If your drink does get spiked, stop drinking it as soon as you realise. The first thing you should do is find somewhere safe and find a friend. If you’re out alone, find a bouncer or bartender, and ask them to sit with you whilst you phone 111/999/a friend.
It is important to communicate quickly before the drugs make this harder. It is also important to alert the security staff so they can help catch whoever has drugged you before they do it again.
If you need urgent help, be sure to phone 999 or get a friend to take you to A&E.
Otherwise, get yourself home safe, and ask your friend to stay with you to make sure you don’t have any adverse effects from the drug.
What do I need to do if I think I or someone else has been spiked?
The most important thing to do if you have any suspicions that yourself or someone else has been spiked is to get help straight away.
If you think that you have been spiked, talk to or call someone you trust until you are somewhere safe. This could be: a close friend, relative, medical professional, barman, bouncer, member of staff or police. If you feel unwell, ask to be taken to A&E so that a doctor can test to see what drugs are in your system. This way they will know how best to help you, and ensure that you make a quick recovery.
In the case of a friend being spiked, again, inform someone and call an ambulance if their condition deteriorates. Always stay with them so that they do not go home alone or with someone else you may not know or trust. If possible, also try to keep them talking and stop them from to drinking anymore alcohol.
We all love a good night out, and we should not let the fear of the possibility of our drinks being spiked stopping us from having a good time. We hope that this has helped you to gain some extra knowledge on what to look out for when going out, so that you and others around you can feel as safe as possible. Just remember to always look out for each other, and call out potentially dangerous behaviours if needs be. Check out our list of safest cities to study in to help you feel that little bit safer going out.