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. Despite knowing this statistic, and due to those being spiked either not remembering what happened or being too scared to report incidents, it is difficult to know the real extent of this growing problem.
There is no question that having your drink spiked is a scary experience, and so it is important to recognise its symptoms and know how best to act if you think that you or someone else has been spiked.
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 can I tell if I or someone else 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.
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.
Unfortunately, being spiked not only has its physical effects, but it can take an emotional toll on the victim, with the memory loss from the drugs creating feelings of fear, guilt and embarrassment due to having very little knowledge of the past events. We cannot stress enough that if you suspect even the smallest amount that you have been assaulted, or if you have any of these feelings, try to confide in either someone you trust or a professional.
You can reach out to your local GP or sexual health clinic. An alternative includes contacting organisations set up to aid those in similar circumstances such as Women’s Aid, Victim Support, The Survivors Trust or Survivors UK (for males). You could also call Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre on 0808 802 9999 (12–2.30pm and 7-9.30pm every day). These organisations will provide you with free, confidential support, and most importantly, make you feel like you are not going through this alone.
Are there any ways I can try to avoid being spiked as best as possible?
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.
Identifying spiked drinks
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.
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.
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.