Drink spiking: Signs to look out for and how to stay safe

Incidents of drink spiking have doubled in three years

Olivia Petter
Wednesday 20 October 2021 09:35
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[This article was originally published in 2018]

Incidents of drink spiking in the UK increased by 108 per cent between 2015 and 2018, with 179 incidents taking place in 2017 alone. And this is only the officially recorded numbers.

Research has revealed that women are targeted more than men, with one 2016 study finding that 71 per cent of spiking victims were female.

Here's everything you need to know about drink spiking, from which drugs are most commonly used to what to do if you have been spiked.

How to protect yourself from being spiked

Women may be the primary victims of drink spiking, but it's not on them to take responsibility for this and go to extra lengths to try and detect either the poisoner or the poison, explains Sarah Green, co-director at the End Violence Against Women Coalition.

“Fundamentally, we have to tackle from a young age those who develop ideas and behaviours that they are entitled to treat women this way," she tells The Independent.

The best way to do this is by updating sex education guidelines, Green explains, and making drink spiking part of the conversation as soon as possible.

While it's important to press that having your drink spiked is never your fault, a spokesperson from alcohol education charity Drinkaware tells The Independent there are measures one can take to protect yourself from being targeted.

"Get into the habit of never leaving your drink unattended," they said.

The NHS also advises keeping an eye on your friend's drinks.

"Don’t accept a drink from someone you don’t know," the charity's spokesperson adds, "and if they’re available, use drink stoppers, which can be purchased online, for the top of your bottle."

For glasses, it's advised to cover the tops with your hands to prevent people from slipping anything into your drink without your knowledge.

However, one writer, who has been a victim of spiking, points out that the issue runs deeper than preventative advice, which can at times adopt a victim-blaming rhetoric that "empowers the attacker and belittles the victim".

"We need to shift the systemic response," writes Lela London for The Independent.

"Rather than releasing posters suggesting 'one in three cases of rape happen when the victim has been drinking', the government needs to conduct prevention campaigns focused on the illegality and immorality of drinks spiking itself. Rather than teaching young girls to cover their drinks and bodies defensively, we need to report and penalise culprits.

"The change starts in our culture, not in our caution."

What are drinks actually spiked with?

According to the NHS, examples of drugs that have reportedly been used for drink spiking (sometimes referred to as ‘date rape drugs’) include:

Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and gamma-butyrolactone (GBL)

According to Frank, the national drug education service, GHB and GBL are closely related drugs with similar sedative effects.

GBL is usually converted into GHB shortly after entering the body.

Both produce feelings of euphoria, reduce inhibitions and provoke sleepiness.

The effects start after about 10 minutes and can last for up to seven hours or more.

Tranquillisers, most often benzodiazepines, including Valium (diazepam) and Rohypnol

These drugs are also sedatives and are sometimes used to treat insomnia and anxiety.

Occasionally, people become dependent on them; withdrawal symptoms can be severe and may include vomiting, fits and tremors.

They work by increasing the effect of a chemical in the brain called gamma amino butyric acid (GABA) which can adversely affect someone's rational though processes and short-term memory capabilities.

Usually, they will take effect within 15 to 30 minutes with symptoms lasting several hours or more, depending on the dosage.

Ketamine

Ketamine is a powerful general anaesthetic which is used for operations on humans and animals.

It can reduce bodily sensations, prompting a floating feeling which can render you immobile - an experience which is sometimes referred to as "entering a k-hole" in instances when the drug is taken recreationally.

It can also provoke hallucinations, panic attacks and memory loss.

The effects can begin after five minutes of taking the drug and a "trip" normally lasts between 30 minutes and several hours.

How to tell if you’ve been spiked

“It's unlikely that you will see, smell or taste any difference in your drink if it has been spiked,” explains Dr Sarah Jarvis, Drinkaware's medical advisor.

The only way to know is to be mindful of the symptoms as and when you notice them taking effect.

According to the NHS, these can mimic symptoms we link to feeling drunk and can include lowered inhibitions, loss of balance, visual problems, confusion, nausea, vomiting and unconsciousness.

“If you start to feel strange or more drunk than you feel you should be, then get help straight away,” Jarvis tells The Independent.

What to do if you think you’ve been spiked

"If you think your drink may have been spiked and you’re on your own, call someone you trust," Jarvis advises.

This could be a close friend, a medical professional, a relative or the police.

"If you feel unwell, ask to be taken to the nearest Accident and Emergency department and tell the medical staff you think you’ve been spiked," she adds.

They will then conduct urine and blood tests to identify the drugs in your system.

Most date rape drugs will leave the body within 72 hours of being taken, so it's important to be tested as possible in order to clarify what you've been spiked with so as to ensure you're treated accordingly.

People who have been spiked should make fairly quick recoveries from a physical perspective, provided they are treated promptly.

Mentally and emotionally, the experience can take a more severe toll, leaving victims with feelings of shame, guilt and fear.

In these instances, it can helpful to seek additional support from a counsellor or helpline, contact Rape Crisis or End Violence Against Women.

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