When it comes to staying safe on a night out, one of the most important risks to be aware of is spiking.

Spiking is when a person administers another substance (typically alcohol or drugs) to someone else without their knowledge or consent. The most common method of spiking is by adding substances to someone’s drink on a night out, although there have also been some reported cases of spiking via needle injection.

Spiking happens for lots of different reasons. The person may be intending to rob or steal valuables, to incapacitate someone or to sexually assault them (including date rape). It can even as a misguided prank. Whatever the reason, spiking is a serious crime and can leave a victim extremely vulnerable and unable to protect themselves from harm.

The facts

  • Spiking is a serious crime, punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison.
  • 71.6% of victims of reported spiking incidents in England and Wales were women (BBC, 2019).
  • The true prevalence of spiking is likely to be much higher than reported. Spiking is thought to be heavily under reported because victims can’t always remember the incident.
  • Anyone, of any age or gender, can be vulnerable to spiking.
  • Spiking can cause serious health complications, including a risk of coma and death.

This video from Drinkaware.co.uk explains more about spiking.

Effects of spiking

Most substances used to spike drinks are colourless and odourless, which means it can be difficult to tell if you’ve been spiked. Some common symptoms of spiking can include:

  • Sudden disorientation, drowsiness and confusion
  • Loss of balance
  • Slurred speech
  • Double vision or blurred vision
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Unconsciousness

Protecting yourself

Like other crimes, the blame for spiking lies squarely with the person who commits it – never the person who is spiked.

There is no fool proof method to avoid drink spiking or completely eradicate risk on a night out. Methods of spiking also change, with recent cases of needle spiking reported to police.

The FRANK website has advice on ways to be cautious and try to reduce your risk:

  • Always buy your own drink and watch it being poured.
  • Don’t accept drinks from strangers.
  • Never leave your drink unattended while you dance or go to the toilet.
  • Don’t drink or taste anyone else’s drink.
  • Throw your drink away if you think it tastes strange or different.

If you think you’ve been spiked

If you are on a night out and think your drink may have been spiked, tell someone you trust such as a close friend, who can stay with you and help you to find support. If you aren’t with anyone, call someone and get to a safe place.

  • If you need urgent help, call 999.
  • Be wary of accepting help from a stranger and don’t leave with someone you don’t know.
  • If you feel unwell, ask a friend to take you to the hospital Emergency Department. Tell medical staff that you think your drink’s 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 possible.

Sexual assault

Spiking is a key component of date rape, which is the act of deliberately incapacitating someone in order to sexually assault them.

Spiking someone in order to commit a sexual offence against them is a serious crime – no matter whether any sexual offence took place. If the perpetrator also committed a sexual offence against the person they spiked, they will face additional sentences.

If you fear that you have been spiked and may have been sexually assaulted, it’s important to contact a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) as soon as possible. SARCs offer a range of services, including crisis care, medical and forensic examinations, emergency contraception and testing for sexually transmitted infections. They can also arrange access to an independent sexual assault adviser, as well as referrals to mental health support and sexual violence support services.