Support for drink spiking

Graphic shows the hand of someone spiking a drink at a party but putting a pill into a cocktail glass

Going out for the night should be a chance to let loose and have a great time with your mates. The last thing you want to worry about is someone slipping something in your drink. Sadly, this is a real risk and especially so for women. In 2021, The Independent ran a YouGov survey which found that one in nine women have had their drinks spiked, and one in three knew another woman who had been spiked.

This is unacceptable, and we want to raise awareness of this issue to make sure more young people feel informed and stay as safe as possible. If this has happened to you, know that you’re not alone and we’re here to support you.

We spoke to The Loop’s senior health team member, Adam Waugh, to find out more about spiking. Based on his expert advice, here is our guide.

What is drink spiking?

When someone spikes your drink, it means they add a substance without your permission or knowledge that could affect your body’s ability to function normally, which can potentially cause you harm and leave you vulnerable.

Why would someone spike my drink?

The main motivation for spiking someone’s drink is unfortunately to take advantage of that person by committing sexual assault or rape. This is a gendered issue as it is usually a crime committed by men against women or non-binary people. Mugging someone may also be a motivation for drink spiking.

It’s important to remember that if someone spikes your drink then they’re breaking the law. Spiking someone’s drink could land the individual with a 10-year prison sentence in the UK.

You aren’t to blame for their actions and you’ve done nothing wrong. The narrative that victims “should have been more careful” is dangerous and misleading – it is never your fault if your drink has been spiked.

What drug is used to spike drinks?

  • Alcohol is the most common substance used in drink spiking and can be just as dangerous as other substances. Typically, spirits will be used to make someone’s drink much stronger, so they are consuming more alcohol without realising and therefore become vulnerable.
  • A drug commonly associated with spiking is Rohypnol (“roofies”), a sleeping tablet and sedative that causes someone’s responses to slow down, relaxes the muscles and can also cause memory loss. While there is limited research around spiking drugs, evidence suggests Rohypnol is quite rarely used in drink spiking. This may be partly because it’s rarely prescribed by doctors.
  • GHB is a psychoactive substance in clear liquid form that is also sometimes referred to as a “date rape” drug. It can lower your inhibitions and can also knock you out quickly, especially when mixed with alcohol. Again, there is evidence that it isn’t as commonly used in drink spiking as is sometimes portrayed in the media.
  • Drugs which may be more commonly used in drink spiking include tranquillisers (benzodiazepines) such as diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax) and lorazepam. These drugs are commonly prescribed by doctors for anxiety and some other medical conditions. Like Rohypnol, they can cause memory loss and sedation, especially when combined with alcohol.
  • Party drugs or other drugs are also sometimes put in people’s drinks to make them more intoxicated, for example cocaineketamine and ecstasy

The important thing to be aware of is that lots of different drugs can be used in drink spiking. It doesn’t matter what drug it is or if it’s alcohol – it’s always wrong to put something in someone else’s drink without consent.

What are the symptoms of your drink being spiked?

Reactions to being spiked may vary depending on the individual and the substance that has been used to spike. The effects of drink spiking may be very similar to the effects of drinking too much alcohol. However, experiences may include:

  • A sense of being out of control
  • Confusion
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Memory loss
  • Panic/anxiety
  • Unconsciousness

The only way to know if you’ve been spiked is to get a blood test as soon as possible (ideally within 12 hours). This is really important as the results can be used as evidence by police officers when investigating the crime.

Are there any long-term effects of spiking?

Single exposure to a substance isn’t likely to have long lasting physical harm, but you shouldn’t drive the next day as some drugs can stay in the bloodstream for a number of days.

It’s important to look after your mental health if you’ve been a victim of spiking as it can sometimes feel scary and overwhelming. You might feel vulnerable after it has happened and feel scared to go out and socialise again, especially if you have also experienced sexual assault. If you’re feeling this way, you deserve support and it’s important to talk to someone about it.

If you feel able to talk to your friends and family about what’s happened, it will really help to have them there to get you through the experience. You can also speak to your GP, or arrange some counselling sessions. You can get up to eight sessions of free counselling through The Mix.

Read 24-year-old Molly’s interview about how she coped after her drink was spiked.

What should I do if I think I’ve been spiked?

If you think you or someone you’re with has been spiked, the best thing to do is tell the people you’re with and seek medical help straight away. Call an ambulance if you are worried about their health or get to the nearest hospital and explain what has happened. The quicker you go to hospital, the more likely it is that the substance will be identified.

If a friend has been spiked, then it’s important to make sure they get home safe. Stay with them so if anything happens or their condition deteriorates you can call for help straight away.

What type of crime is drink spiking?

Remember that drink spiking is a serious crime and you have a right to report it to the police. If you feel nervous to do this then consider asking a friend or family member to come with you. This will involve answering some questions about what happened to you so try to remember as much as you can about the incident (but don’t worry if you can’t as this can be traumatic and difficult).

If you think you’ve been raped or sexually assaulted, when you were spiked this is also a really serious crime. It’s really important that you tell someone as soon as you can to make sure you get all the support you need. If you feel able to report this too then it’s important to give the police all the information you can.

How can I prevent spiking?

The responsibility should not solely be on women, girls and non-binary folk to protect their own safety when they’re out having fun. Drink spiking is a problem that needs to be addressed in many different ways, including by tackling the issue of gendered violence. One of the ways we can do this is to improve education about spiking and issues such as consent. This is something that we can all help with.

If you hear someone talking as though they intend to spike someone’s drink, make it clear that this behaviour is unacceptable – even if it sounds like they’re joking.

If you work in a bar, look out for someone who might seem out of control and look after them. Watch out for predatory male behaviour and take a zero tolerance approach to sexual assault and harassment. It’s also a big help to organise staff training on what drink spiking looks like and how to respond to it.

If you’re going out, here are our tips for staying safe:

  • You can buy special lids to place over the top of your drink if you’re in a bar or a club
  • Try to keep an eye on your drink at all times
  • Stay with friends and make sure you have a plan of how to get home
  • Keep your phone battery charged
  • Have a plan for how you will you get home if you get separated from your group

What are the risks of injection spiking?

This has been in the media a lot recently and there are anecdotes of it happening. It can feel really worrying, however, it’s important to know that no one has currently been charged with it in the UK and no one has reported directly seeing someone spike them using a needle.

Risks of unexpected intoxication

Another risk factor to be aware of when you’re off on a night out is the potential for alcohol or a recreational drug to have unexpectedly strong effects. It’s important to make sure you’re with people you trust if you’re drinking or experimenting with drugs, keep your phone charged and always have a plan for how you’re going to get home.

The Mix would like to thank The Loop for their support with this article.

Next Steps

  • Rape Crisis offers support and advice to victims of rape and sexual assault, no matter how long ago the attack was. 0808 802 99 99
  • Solace Women's Aid find creative and innovative ways to support thousands of women, children and young people each year from prevention and crisis to recovery and independence.
  • Women's aid protects women from domestic violence. Call their 24-hour helpline on 0808 2000 247.
  • Call the Sexual Violence Alliance on 01603 667687 for support and advice for women and men who are victims of sexual or domestic violence.
  • FRANK offers friendly, confidential advice on all things drugs-related. Call now on 0300 123 6600
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.

By Holly Turner

Updated on 22-Dec-2021

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