Every year in the UK, hundreds of people are thought to be victims of drink spiking, where alcohol or drugs are added to someone's drink without them knowing. In some cases, so-called 'date rape drugs' may be used to spike a drink before a sexual assault.
Many more incidents happen abroad or go unreported due to embarrassment or memory loss.
Is drink spiking illegal?
Drink spiking may be done with the intent of stealing from the victim, assaulting the victim or as a prank.
Whatever the reason, drink spiking is illegal and can result in a maximum of 10 years in prison for anyone who's found guilty.
If an assault, rape or robbery has also taken place, the sentence will be even higher.
Sexual assault is an act that's carried out without the victim’s active consent. This means they didn’t agree to it, even if they have taken drugs or alcohol voluntarily. Read more about rape and sexual assault.
What substances are used to spike drinks?
Alcohol is the most common substance used to spike drinks.
It can be added to a soft (non-alcoholic) drink without you knowing, or double measures can be used instead of singles.
Drugs used in drink spiking are often referred to as "date rape drugs", although they're not always used for sexual assault.
Some examples of drugs that have reportedly been used for drink spiking include:
- gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and gamma-butyrolactone (GBL)
- tranquillisers, most often benzodiazepines, including Valium (diazepam) and Rohypnol
Date rape drugs are particularly dangerous when mixed with alcohol, because they combine to have a very powerful anaesthetic effect. In extreme cases, it can lead to a coma or even death.
Date rape drugs may come in powder, tablet or liquid form, and don’t always have an unusual taste or smell.
How do I know if my drink has been spiked?
Most date rape drugs take effect within 15-30 minutes and symptoms usually last for several hours. However, if you pass out it will be hard to know the full effect. You may still feel some of the symptoms of a date rape drug after a night’s sleep.
Although your symptoms will depend on which substance has been used, they usually include some of the following:
- lowered inhibitions
- difficulty concentrating or speaking
- loss of balance and finding it hard to move
- visual problems, particularly blurred vision
- memory loss (amnesia) or "blackouts"
- feeling confused or disorientated, particularly after waking up (if you've been asleep)
- paranoia (a feeling of fear or distrust of others)
- hallucinations (seeing, hearing or touching things that aren't there) or having an "out of body" experience
- nausea and vomiting
How to avoid drink spiking
If your drink has been spiked, it's unlikely you'll see, smell or taste any difference. Some drugs, such as GHB, may taste slightly salty or smell unusual.
If you start to feel strange or more drunk than you should be, get help immediately.
Binge drinking, where you drink lots of alcohol in a short space of time, can increase the risk of having your drink spiked or being the victim of a sexual assault.
Try to avoid drinking too much alcohol, especially in unfamiliar situations. You could lose control, make risky decisions and become less aware of danger.
The following steps may also help prevent drink spiking:
- bever leave your drink unattended and keep an eye on your friends' drinks
- don't accept a drink from someone you don't know
- consider sticking to bottled drinks and avoiding punch bowls or jugs of cocktails
- don't give out your address to someone you've just met
- if you think your drink has been tampered with, don't drink it – tell a trusted friend or relative immediately
- before going out, let someone know where you're going and what time you expect to be home
- make plans for your journey home
- avoid taking expensive belongings with you or anything that could be a target for thieves
- if you're travelling abroad, be aware of the local area and where you can find help
Some bars provide plastic stopper devices, such as lids to put on bottles, which can reduce the risk of your drink being spiked. However, these stoppers won't stop you from consuming a drink that has been spiked with additional alcohol.
They may also provide kits to test your drink, but these don’t test for every kind of drug and often don't work.
What should I do if I think my drink has been spiked?
First, tell someone you completely trust, such as:
- a close friend
- a relative
- a medical professional
- the police
If you're alone, call someone you trust and get to a safe place. Ask to use a phone if yours has been stolen.
If you need urgent help, call emergency services. Be wary of accepting help from a stranger and don’t leave with someone you don’t know.
If you feel unwell, someone you trust should take you to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department. Tell the medical staff that you think your drink has been spiked.
Arrange for a trusted friend or relative to take you home and stay with you until the drugs have fully left your system.
Report it to the police as soon as you can. They may ask you to provide blood and urine samples.
Most drugs leave the body within 72 hours of being taken (the date rape drug GHB leaves the body within 12 hours), so it's important to be tested as soon as possible.
If you're abroad, get help from a travel representative, local medical services or ask a bar or hotel manager to call local police. You can also find contact details for the British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate on GOV.UK.
Physical assault and robbery following a spiked drink
If you've been physically assaulted, robbed, or both, you should report this to the police. They'll want any information you have about your attackers, such as:
- if you knew them
- what they looked like
- the circumstances that led to the attack
- what happened during the attack
- what was taken
The police will need to keep a record of your injuries, and you may need to receive medical treatment.
If you've been sexually assaulted following drink spiking
If you've been sexually assaulted, you should get medical attention as soon as possible. You may need tests to determine whether you have any sexually transmitted infections (STIs), or whether you are pregnant.
You don't have to report an attack to the police immediately if you don't want to.
You can contact any of the following places for advice, treatment or referral to a specialist service (such as a forensic examination):
- a sexual assault referral centre
- a doctor or practice nurse at your doctor surgery
- a voluntary organisation, such as Rape Crisis
- the Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre national freephone helpline on 0808 802 9999 (12-2.30pm and 7-9.30pm every day of the year)
- a hospital accident and emergency (A&E) department
- a genitourinary medicine (GUM) or sexual health clinic
- a contraceptive clinic
- a young people’s service.
Any forensic evidence that's obtained during tests can be stored while you decide whether to report the attack to the police.