Drink Spiking: A Different Kind of Pandemic

Image Courtesy of Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock Megan Moutsatsos, Queens University Edited by Brendan Sheppard
One evening in Nottingham, England, college student Lizzie Wilson was dancing at a club with her friends when she felt a sharp pinch in her back, like she’d been pricked by something. She was rushed to the hospital, where she was disoriented and could not feel her legs. Lizzie was a victim of a drug injection—a terrifying variation of “drink spiking,” in which drugs, alcohol, and other substances are dropped in someone’s drink. So far, there have been 24 reported instances of drug injections in the United Kingdom, a terrifying statistic. However, to better understand the root of these injections, we must understand the history of drink spiking itself. Statistics of drink spiking are difficult to obtain, as many people don’t remember if their drink has been spiked due to the drug’s side effects. Also, these side effects could be confused with the alcohol itself, leading individuals to automatically assume they haven’t been drugged. However, studies have nonetheless been run to determine rough percentages of people who have been victims of drink spiking, as well as possible motivations for “spikers.” A 2016 study in the journal Psychology of Violence suggests that drink spiking may be more widespread than previously believed. In a survey of over 6000 students from 3 American universities, 462 respondents (7.8%) reported that they’d been drugged before. This statistic represents more than 1 in 13 students. Of this report, 83 students (1.4%) admitted to drugging someone else. Lastly, 12.1% of students reported experiencing “unwanted sexual touching” as a result of the spiking, while 5.4% reported “forced sexual intercourse.” Further, while the numbers of this study may appear small, they statistically represent lots of individuals who have experienced drink spiking, and/or sexual assault as a result.  This study also shows how women are disproportionately affected by drink spiking: about twice as many women report being drugged than men. A reason for this could perhaps be the different “motives” men and women believe people have for spiking drinks. When researchers asked why people spiked drinks, women were more likely to suggest sex or sexual assault as a motive, whereas men were more likely to cite having fun as one, implicating the need to “loosen someone up,” which is obviously an abhorrent motive. These differently cited motives imply that men are more inclined to view the act of drink spiking as ultimately wrong, but more innocent and thus justifiable, as it’s for the sake of “fun.” In contrast, women are quicker to define this “fun” as sexual assault, thus strongly deterring them from drink spiking in a way that the common male motive doesn’t. Women also experience side effects of spiking more heavily than men do, which is the result of basic biology and chemistry. They often feel the effects of drugs and alcohol quicker and more intensely. For example, 34% of men felt confusion after consuming a spiked drink, whereas 56% of women did. 50% of women also experienced loss of balance in comparison to 28% of men.  Side effects of consuming a spiked drink, however, naturally depend on what the drink has been spiked with. A drink can be laced with more alcohol, “date rape” drugs, and prescription drugs (like stimulants and sedatives). The most common date rape drugs include rohyphonol (nicknamed “roofie”) and Gamma Hydroxybutyrate (GHB); both sedate and/or incapicate a victim, making them more vulnerable to attack, and are also odorless, colourless drugs, making them difficult to detect. Most date rape drugs will induce side effects within 15-30 minutes, and they will usually last for several hours. Side effects include feeling very drunk, even if you’ve only consumed one drink; they also include sleepiness, confusion, nausea, memory loss, and unconsciousness.  Therefore, drink spiking is incredibly dangerous, and can lead to atrocities like sexual assault and even death, depending on the dosage. To protect yourself, never leave your drink unattended when you’re out, and never accept drinks or food from people you don’t know. Look out for your friends; if they’re showing potential symptoms of being drugged, or aren’t acting like themselves, stay with them, keep talking to them, and don’t let them drink more alcohol. Call an ambulance if their condition worsens, and don’t hesitate to seek assistance from an employee if you’re at a bar or club, such as a manager or bouncer. There is also a product called “NightCap,” as shown on Shark Tank, that can be used to protect your drink when you’re out. It’s a scrunchie that contains a soft, stretchy cover inside the fabric, so you can pull it over top of your drink as protection (however, you should still never leave your drink unattended). Finally, if you think you have been sexually assaulted, seek help immediately. There are provincial sexual assault centres you can call, as well as individual ones for cities. Furthermore, the cases of British women being injected with drugs is mortifying, but it is also a development of a deeper issue in society: drink spiking. To prevent the former, we must also prevent the latter. This can hopefully be accomplished through educating people on the harms and inherent wrongness of drink spiking, as well as what they can do to protect themselves, such as through constantly watching out for each other. Deep care and emphasis on education are musts. After all, if the injections occurring in Britain have been referred to as an “epidemic,” I believe that drink spiking is a pandemic—and it should be treated as such.
References American Addiction Centers. (n.d.). Spiked Substances. Retrieved October 27, 2021, from https://www.alcohol.org/guides/spiked/ Drink spiking and date rape drugs. (n.d.). Retrieved October 27, 2021, from https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/advice/staying-safe-while-drinking/drink-spiking-and-date-rape-drugs Nicks, D. (2016, May 26). Drink Spiking May Be More Prevalent Than Many Believe. Retrieved  October 27, 2021, from https://time.com/4349992/how-often-drink-spiking-actually-occurs-according-to-the-latest-research/   Nightcap®: The Drink Spiking Prevention Scrunchie. (n.d.). Retrieved October 27, 2021, from  https://nightcapit.com/ Nishat. (2021, October 20). UK faces new drink spiking “epidemic” via injection to body. Retrieved October 27, 2021, from https://www.openaccessgovernment.org/drink-spiking-epidemic/122679/ Sexual Assault Centres, Crisis Lines, and Support Services. (n.d.). Retrieved October 27, 2021,  from https://endingviolencecanada.org/sexual-assault-centres-crisis-lines-and-support-services/   Specia, M., & Kwai, I. (2021, October 22). ‘Needle Spiking’ of Women in Britain Stirs Alarm  Over New Kind of Assault. Retrieved October 27, 2021, from  https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/22/world/europe/needle-spiking-uk.html   Swan, S. C., Lasky, N. V., Fisher, B. S., Woodbrown, V. D., Bonsu, J. E., Schramm, A. T., . . .  Williams, C. M. (2017). Just a dare or unaware? Outcomes and motives of drugging  (“drink spiking”) among students at three college campuses. Psychology of Violence,  7(2), 253-264. Retrieved October 27, 2021, from https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/vio-vio0000060.pdf. The Associated Press. (2021, October 27). U.K. women boycotting clubs, pubs amid reports of drink spiking, needle injections | CBC News. Retrieved October 28, 2021, from https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/uk-women-boycott-clubs-drink-spiking-1.6227378