Date rape drugs

Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

Drink spiking is when mind-altering substances, such as drugs or alcohol, are added to your drink without you knowing. Mind-altering means that it may affect how you act, or how you behave with other people.

Who is at risk?

The people who are most at risk from drink spiking are those who regularly drink too much alcohol. The recommended limits for alcohol consumption are 17 standard drinks a week for men and 11 for women. A standard drink of alcohol is equal to about half a pint of beer, a small glass of wine or a pub measure of spirits.

There are many reasons why someone might spike a drink, and it is not only females who could be targeted. The most common reasons are:

  • for amusement
  • to be malicious (deliberately nasty)
  • to carry out a sexual assault or rape
  • to carry out a physical assault
  • to carry out a theft

Outlook

The symptoms of drink spiking will depend on whether alcohol or another drug has been used, how much of the substance was used, and how much alcohol (if any) you have already drunk. You will need to have your blood or urine tested to confirm that your drink has been spiked with drugs. Drink spiking is a crime even if it is not done for the purpose of facilitating other serious crimes

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Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

In recent years, press coverage about drink spiking has increased, giving the impression that it is becoming a more widespread problem. The actual figures for drink spiking are difficult to verify, but it is always worth taking precautions to prevent it happening to you.

Some small case studies have suggested that, of all the people who report to accident and emergency (A&E) departments with claims that their drink has been spiked, very few test positive for an unknown substance. This may indicate that more people are aware of drink spiking, so they are assuming that their drink has been spiked when it has not. However, it could be that the drugs in the spiked drink leave the system very quickly.

A person may have been given an illegal substance, but by the time a blood or urine sample has been taken it cannot be detected. Also, if someone who is drinking alcohol has their drink spiked, it can be difficult to prove that a crime has taken place.

Date rape

Drink spiking has been linked to incidents of date rape (when a person is raped or sexually assaulted after being given drugs or alcohol). Not everyone will report an incident of rape or sexual assault, so figures are unconfirmed.

Report the incident

If you suspect that your drink has been spiked, always report it to the police and seek medical attention if necessary. As you cannot be sure how your body will react to an unknown substance, you will need to be with people who you trust and who can look after you. Only by reporting the incident and getting tested can the offender be caught and stopped from spiking someone else's drink.

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Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

If your drink has been spiked, your symptoms will depend on what drug has been used. The effect of any drug will depend on your body shape and size, your age, how much of the spiked drink you have consumed, and how much alcohol (if any) you have already drunk.

Any drug could be slipped into your drink without your knowledge. Drugs can come in powder or liquid form, and may not have an unusual taste or smell.

Date rape drugs

The most common drugs that are used in drink spiking are often referred to as date rape drugs. This is because they make it harder for you to resist an assault. The most common date rape drugs are:

  • alcohol
  • gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and gamma-butyrolactone (GBL)
  • tranquilizers, most often benzodiazepines, including valium and rohypnol
  • ketamine

These drugs are depressants, which work by slowing down your nervous system, and dulling your responses and your instincts. In moderation, alcohol can help to relax you, and some date rape drugs are legally prescribed for anxiety and insomnia. However, when taken without knowing, these substances leave you vulnerable to danger.

Date rape drugs will affect your behaviour and the messages that you give out to other people. You will not be fully in control of yourself, and someone could take advantage of you.

Date rape drugs can start to take effect within five minutes of being taken, or up to an hour after being taken. The symptoms for the above drugs, including alcohol, are quite similar, and will include some of the following:

  • drowsiness or light headedness
  • difficulty concentrating
  • feeling confused or disorientated, particularly after waking up (if you have been asleep)
  • difficulty speaking, or slurring your words
  • loss of balance and finding it hard to move
  • lowered inhibitions
  • paranoia (a feeling of fear or distrust of others)
  • amnesia (memory loss) or a 'black-out' of events (when you cannot remember large sections of your evening)
  • temporary loss of body sensation (feeling like you are floating above your body, or having an 'out of body' experience)
  • visual problems, particularly blurred vision 
  • hallucinations (seeing, hearing or touching things that are not really there)
  • nausea and vomiting
  • unconsciousness

All date rape drugs are particularly dangerous when they are mixed with alcohol because they combine to have a very powerful anaesthetic effect. This causes unconsciousness and, in more extreme cases, it can cause coma or even death.

How long the drugs' effects last will depend on how much has been taken and how much alcohol, if any, you have drunk. The symptoms could last between 3-7 hours, but 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, particularly confusion, amnesia or nausea.

The most common date rape drugs are described below.

Alcohol

Alcohol is the most common date rape drug. It can be added to a soft (non-alcoholic) drink without you knowing, or double measures can be used instead of singles. If you have had a drink already, you may find it harder to tell how much alcohol you are consuming. The effects of alcohol will depend on how much you drink, and if you have been drinking already.

In large amounts, alcohol can be very dangerous, particularly if you pass out and vomit in your sleep. It takes your body one hour to process a unit of alcohol, so the length of the effects will depend on how many units of alcohol you have consumed. See the alcohol misuse Health A-Z topic for an explanation of units of alcohol, and some examples.

Gamma-hydroxybutyrate and gamma-butyrolactone

Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) usually comes in the form of a slightly oily, colourless liquid or, less often, as a powder.

Gamma-butyrolactone (GBL) is a more basic form of GHB and another possible date rape drug. It comes in liquid form and is found in some household products. After entering the body, GBL changes into GHB.

Only a very small amount of GHB is needed in order to have an effect, and it can be dissolved easily into other liquids. GHB has an unpleasant taste and a weak odour. But you are unlikely to notice it in very small doses or when it is mixed with a strong-flavoured drink.

Tranquilizers

Tranquilizers come in hundreds of different forms. The most common are called benzodiazepines. You may hear of these as valium, rohypnol, roofies or benzos. They are sometimes legally prescribed to treat anxiety or insomnia. Tranquilizers work by slowing down your body, relieving tension and making you feel very relaxed. They normally come as a tablet.

Ketamine

Ketamine, sometimes called K, is a powerful anaesthetic that is used for both animals and humans. In its legal form it is a liquid. Illegally, it is normally a grainy white powder or a tablet. Ketamine can cause hallucinations (when you see or hear things that are not real) or it can create a feeling of your mind being separate from your body.

 

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Anaesthetic
Anaesthetic is a drug used to either numb a part of the body (local), or to put a patient to sleep (general) during surgery.
Coma
A coma is a sleep like state when someone is unconscious for a long period of time.
Doses
Dose is a measured quantity of a medicine to be taken at any one time, such as a specified amount of medication.
Fatigue
Fatigue is extreme tiredness and lack of energy.
Hallucinations
Hallucinations are a sensory experience in which a person sees, hears, or feels something or someone that isn't really there.
Nausea
Nausea is when you feel like you are going to be sick.
Vomiting
Vomiting is when you bring up the contents of your stomach through your mouth.

Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

If you think that your drink has been spiked, the immediate course of action that you should take will depend on your circumstances.

Your circumstances

If you feel very unwell, e.g. you have symptoms such as drowsiness, vomiting or hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there), you should ask a trusted friend to take you to the accident and emergency (A&E) department of your nearest hospital. When you arrive at A&E, you or your friend should tell the medical staff that you think your drink has been spiked.

If you still have some of the spiked drink left, keep hold of it as it might be used as evidence. Give it to the bar manager or landlord to keep for you. Alternatively, you can give it to the police if you have already called them.

If you think that your drink has been spiked but you have no severe and debilitating symptoms, you may decide to contact the police as soon as possible. in order to report the incident.

At what stage you report the matter to the police will depend on your physical condition and whether you need to receive immediate medical attention. However, the police will need a blood or urine sample for testing, so the sooner you or someone else can contact the police, the better (see below for further information).

Tell someone you trust

If your drink has been spiked, you should tell someone who you completely trust. This could be:

  • a trusted friend or relative
  • a pub or bar manager
  • security staff
  • the Gardai
  • a healthcare professional

Your first priority is to protect yourself from further harm, so it is vital that you get help from someone you know well, or someone who is in a position of trust, such as a senior member of management in the pub or club that you are in.

Contacting the police

In order for the Gardai to investigate and possibly prosecute a case of drink spiking, they will need to obtain blood or urine samples from you to test for any unusual substances.

Following a drink spiking incident, blood or urine samples will need to be taken as soon as possible. Most drugs leave the body 12 to 72 hours after being taken, so it is very important that a blood or urine sample is tested as soon as possible if you think that your drink has been spiked.

For example, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) will be undetectable in your blood within six to eight hours, and undetectable in your urine within 12 to18 hours.

A place of safety

After you have been to accident and emergency (A&E) (if this is necessary), the police have been contacted and a blood or urine sample has been taken, you should arrange for someone you know and trust to take you home.

Once you are at home, ask a trusted friend or relative to stay with you until the drugs have fully left your system, which will probably be the following day. This is in case any symptoms that you have get worse and you are unable to look after yourself.

Assault, rape and robbery

If you have also been assaulted, robbed or both, you should report this to the police as well. The police will want any information that 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

If you have been physically assaulted, the police will need to keep a record of your injuries, and you may be in need of medical attention.

If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, you should always seek medical attention. You may need to be tested to determine whether you have any sexually transmitted infections (STIs), or whether you are pregnant.

You do not have to report an attack to the police immediately if you do not wish to. However, seek medical assistance immediately if you have been hurt or injured. Any forensic evidence that is obtained during tests can be stored while you decide whether to report the attack to the Gardai.

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Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

If your drink has been spiked, it is unlikely that you will be able to see, taste or smell any difference, so it is important to try to prevent it from happening.

Follow the guidelines below to help lower the risk of having your drink spiked, and to help you stay safe when you are out.

  • Keep your drink in your hand, and hold your thumb over the opening if you are drinking from a bottle.
  • Keep an eye on your friend's drinks.
  • Do not leave your drink unattended at any time, even while you are in the toilet.
  • Never accept a drink from anyone you do not know or trust.
  • Do not share or exchange drinks, or drink leftover drinks.
  • When possible, drink from a bottle rather than a glass because it is more difficult to spike a drink in a bottle.
  • Stay away from situations that you do not feel comfortable with.
  • If you go on a date with someone who you do not know, tell a friend or relative where you will be and what time you will be back.
  • Do not give away too much information to anyone you have just met, such as your address.
  • Do not show off expensive equipment, such as mobile phones or MP3 players, as you may attract unwanted attention.
  • Remember that if you have already been drinking you will be more vulnerable because alcohol dulls your instincts and your awareness of danger.
  • Do not become complacent - always remember that it could happen to you

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Content provided by NHS Choices www.nhs.uk and adapted for Ireland by the Health A-Z.

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