A Security Guide to Drink Spiking
“Although I finished my drink slowly, I suddenly felt hit by its alcoholic effects in an unexpected way. I felt completely dissociated from my body and felt confused about everything going on around me. Though I don’t remember it, I texted my friend to say I was feeling funny, and then I texted him: ‘I’m frightened’. I’m so lucky that he came to collect me and walk me home”. – Rebecca Morris, University Student and victim of drink spiking.
The act of ‘spiking’ a person’s drink involves adding an additional substance to a person’s beverage without their knowledge, they usually spike alcoholic drinks that are left unattended.
The substance in question is often some form of illegal narcotic. The principal motivations for spiking spiking someone’s drink can range from mean-spirited practical jokes to robbery, being sexually assaulted and even attempted murder.
Although the earliest incident of drink spiking took place back in 1903, it has become a vastly more serious issue in recent years. According to the BBC, between 2015 and 2019, there were over 2600 reports of drink spiking across the UK.
In a truly vile trend, incidents of spiking have been rising even higher than that as of 2021. A recent survey conducted by the Alcohol Education Trust (AET) found that 35% of people have had their own drinks spiked at private functions, 28% in nightclubs, 13% in bars and 7% while attending festivals. These shocking statistics have seen spiking described as ‘an epidemic’ by at least one AET spokesperson.
It isn’t hyperbole, either. The same study found that 1 in 7 women between the ages of 16 – 25 have been targeted. Even more damning is the fact that 92% of incidents go entirely unreported. On the rare cases that a victim does speak up, very little is actually done about it.
A 2013 paper, published in the journal of the British Sociological Association, saliently noted that, “young women’s accounts of drink spiking are characterised by uncertainty, minimisation, self-blame and a reluctance to disclose their experiences”.
Women are the most common targets of spiking, but men can be victims as well. One man, known as ‘Adam’ recalled his experience to Sky News,
“The next thing I knew, I woke up in a park. My trousers had been removed and my phone, keys and wallet were gone. I had no idea what to do, but I realised a friend lived close by, so I went to his place. I was taken straight to hospital – luckily I was okay, but it was honestly the most traumatic experience of my life.”
The latter half of 2021 has seen an alarming rise in instances of spiking, with almost 200 cases being reported in 2 months. Unfortunately, it looks as if these numbers are unlikely to decrease anytime soon.
The reality is that security operatives (particularly door supervisors) are the best-placed people (aside from the victims themselves) to help stem this grim tide. Accordingly, we decided to put together this comprehensive guide to drink spiking in order that you can be as informed as possible.
‘Date Rape’ Drugs
In March of 2011, the author of the ‘Ravishingly Real‘ blog bravely published a first-hand account of an incident of drink spiking.
In the piece, the author states that, “There was a man who made himself known to me, who was insistent on talking to me and who I politely informed that I was not interested in. He persisted. I got a bit freaked out and decided to go to the restroom in the hope that he would be gone on my return. I left my drink on the bar, next to my friend. Within the space of about 20-30 minutes from me sipping on that drink after returning from the bathroom, I was gone. I don’t recall getting home. I don’t recall how I got home. I don’t recall if I was alone in the cab or with my friend. A total blackout. Turns out my friend got me home safe. Thank goodness”.
Like many people who have experienced spiking, the author (whose name is not displayed on the article) blacked out completely within about 30 minutes or so of finishing her drink. She then began experiencing effects similar to an alcoholic blackout, despite the fact that she had not consumed enough alcohol to be experiencing these effects. These symptoms are among the classic effects of a drug known as Rohypnol.
As the author confirmed,
“Rohypnol, or the ‘date rape drug’ as it’s known, takes affect within 30 minutes. Once it hits you simply appear as if you are very, very drunk. You feel drunk. You have problems talking. You black out. You can’t remember what happened while drugged. You feel very sleepy. You can experience stomach problems and pain. And it can lead to death. The drug leaves the body quickly so, even if you wanted to, it’s very hard to prove that drugs were involved.”
Rohypnol (properly named ‘flunitrazepam’) is a fast-acting sedative of the kind known as benzodiazepines. It works by slowing down the central nervous system, which results in a greatly reduced reaction time, drowsiness, confusion, cognitive impairment and memory loss.
Since amnesia is one of the most prominent pharmacologic effects of Rohypnol, it is often used by criminals to aid in robbery or assault. In most instances, the victim lacks any memory of the events that transpired while they were under the influence of the drug. Additionally, the victim, once dosed, is likely to lack awareness of their circumstances and be unable to offer any resistance to their attacker.
Originally synthesized in Sweden in 1975, the drug is sometimes used to prepare patients for surgery. Illegally, Rohypnol is also occasionally used to enhance or counter the effects of drugs like heroin, LSD, cocaine or ecstasy. Its effects can last for 12 hours or more.
The drug can also be called ‘La Rocha’, ‘Forget-Me Pills’, ‘Roach’, ‘Ropies’, ‘Roofies‘, ‘Mind Eraser’ and, perhaps most famously, ‘the date-rape drug’. It is probably the most common drug used in spiking, especially in instances of rape or sexual assault.
Other ‘date rape’ drugs include alcohol (in instances where additional alcohol is added to a person’s drink, or to a non-alcoholic drink without their knowledge), Ketamine (like Rohypnol, Ketamine is also used medically as an anaesthetic) and GHB (or Gamma Hydroxybutyric Acid, a depressant used in the treatment of narcolepsy).
For reference, Rohypnol usually takes the form of a small white tablet. However, as a safety precaution, many manufacturers now make it as a green pill with a blue core. These pills contain a blue dye, which alerts the person drinking to the fact that they have been spiked.
Ketamine is most often available as a clear liquid or an off-white powder. GHB can also take the form of a liquid or powder, both being very easy to mix into drinks when a person isn’t looking. None of these substances have any discernible smell or taste.
Symptoms of being Spiked
As a security operative, it is vital that you recognise the symptoms of a person who is under the influence of drugs, as opposed to one who is simply inebriated.
As one victim of drink spiking told Sky News in 2018, “I was chucked out of the club for being too drunk – which was not the case at all”.
Sadly, this has become a familiar story. A person has their drink spiked and, just as they reach their most vulnerable point, they are forcibly ejected from the pub, club or venue for being ‘too drunk’. Not only can this place the victim further at the mercy of their attacker, but it also puts them in danger generally.
Obviously, ejecting inebriated patrons for the safety of themselves and others is part of the job, but there are subtle differences between voluntary inebriation and involuntary ingestion of dangerous substances.
The most obvious sign that a person has been spiked will be if they suddenly act as if they are blackout drunk, despite only consuming a small or moderate amount of alcohol. A patron who arrives at the venue in a clear-headed and even-tempered fashion, drinks only a couple of beverages and then suddenly appears to be extremely drunk has very likely been the victim of spiking.
Admittedly, this would be hard to catch, unless you happen to work on the doors as well as inside a relatively small venue. Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering that if a patron appears to become excessively drunk after just a couple of drinks, they could very well have been spiked.
If you work inside a venue and notice a patron showing signs of extreme inebriation, remember that it is unlikely they would have been allowed onto the premises in such a condition. It is therefore worth liaising with the DS and attempting to ascertain if the patron was behaving in this manner on their way into the venue.
If any patrons are severely drunk upon admission, the DS has not performed their duties properly and may need to be reprimanded by management. If the DS doesn’t remember a patron being that drunk, or remembers the specific patron as being clear-headed at the door, then the patron may have had their drink spiked.
Specific symptoms of a spiking will depend, not only on what substance(s) have been added to the someone’s drink, but also on what they are drinking and what their blood alcohol level was at the time the drugs were introduced to their system. A person’s size/weight and metabolic rate will also affect the passage of drugs through their system.
Common Symptoms that occur during many incidents of spiking include dizziness, disorientation, confusion, difficulty walking, severe nausea (either feeling sick or actually vomiting), hallucinations (common in cases where drinks have been spiked with hallucinogens or other recreational drugs), slurred speech, impaired vision, fatigue, paranoia and amnesia.
These symptoms may begin as little as 5 minutes after ingesting the substance(s), but this depends on the substances used.
One of the key warning signs of a spiking is a person radically shifting from having an enjoyable evening to becoming ill or seemingly blackout drunk. It is always good working practice to inquire with the bar staff as to how much the patron has had to drink prior to ejecting them. If the amount seems inconsistent with their level of inebriation, then it very possibly is.
How Can You Tell if a Drink Has Been Spiked?
Thanks to a plethora of public information campaigns, some patrons may actually be aware that their drink has been spiked. Early warning signs can include blurred vision, slurred speech, dizziness and disorientation.
A patron who recognises these signs would be wise to speak to a member of staff as quickly as possible. If this happens to you, we urge you to take such claims extremely seriously, even if you privately have doubts.
By inspecting a person’s drink, you may ascertain in some cases whether or not it has been spiked. The obvious clue is if the drink is non-alcoholic, or only mildly alcoholic and bar staff can attest to the person in question drinking responsibly. However, there are other signs to look for as well.
I) The drink’s colour has changed. As we discussed above, newer Rohypnol tablets often contain a blue dye. Whilst most ‘date rape’ drugs aren’t visibly detectable, other drugs are easy to spot on close inspection. If the colour seems even vaguely off (for example, darker or lighter than it ought to be), there is a very good chance that it has been tampered with.
II) It doesn’t taste like it should. For clarity’s sake, we absolutely do not condone ‘taste testing’ a possibly spiked drink. However, you can ask the patron if the drink tasted alright. If they respond that it did not, it could well have been spiked.
III) The liquid appears to be cloudy. There are very few, if any, popular alcoholic drinks that could be adequately described as ‘cloudy’. A drink that looks cloudy or somehow ‘foggier’ than it should has very probably been spiked.
IV) There are too many bubbles. A lot of popular beverages are carbonated, but they tend to lose their fizz over time. A Coke, for example, may be fairly fizzy when first poured, but after a few minutes it tends to settle down. If the liquid seems fizzier than usual (especially if there are a lot of bubbles congregating at the top of the glass), this should definitely arouse suspicion.
V) There is ‘dust’ on the ice. There is a common misconception that ice will sink in a drink that has been drugged. This isn’t true, but specks of powder or ‘dust’ may be visible on the ice for a brief time after the drink has been spiked.
According to Drink Aware, “If your drink has been spiked with a date rape drug it’s unlikely that you will see, smell or taste any difference, no matter what type of drink you are having. Most date rape drugs take effect within 15-30 minutes and symptoms usually last for several hours”
What Should You Do if You Think a Drink Has Been Spiked?
The first thing we would suggest in such an instance is that you trust your instincts. If you think a person’s drink has been spiked, do not waste time deliberating, just assume it to be the case and act accordingly.
Ask that the patron contact a trusted person that can come to collect them. If they have no credit, make the call for them. Ensure that a member of staff (preferably a certified first aider) is with them at all times. Under no circumstances should you allow the patron to leave the venue unaccompanied.
If the patron opts to leave with a friend or friends, you should do everything you can to obtain names and contact details from these people and ensure that they are who they say they are. It is part of the plan for many sex attackers to leave with their victims under the guise of ‘getting them home safely’. Do not let the patron leave with anybody that seems suspicious to you.
Keep a close eye on the patron’s condition and be prepared to call an ambulance if they lose consciousness or look like they might be about to. You may also detain any patron that you see tampering with a drink and hold them until the police arrive. You should also advise whoever is looking after the patron to seek medical help on their behalf.
Always report cases of spiking to the local police. Even if they are unable to locate the culprit, such reports can give police and other relevant parties a better idea of the scope and severity of the problem, which can in turn lead to more fitting legislative responses from the government.
Also, in some cases, serial sex offenders operate in the same group of venues over extended periods. Reporting these incidents may help the police to catch the culprit and obtain a conviction. You must also report any/all incidents in the venue’s incident book.
Should you need to contact police during the incident, you may find the patron to be reluctant, especially if they have voluntarily used drugs prior to the event, are underaged and using a fake ID or are worried about being arrested for some other reason. You can reassure them that they will not be in trouble for this, but that the incident must be reported to police.
If possible, you must also keep the drink itself somewhere safe so that it can be tested by police. If your venue has a ‘drink spiking kit’, you may wish to use this in order to test the drink yourself. Keep the test, whether it is positive or negative and report it as necessary.
As an aside, if the drink is tested and comes back negative for the presence of drugs, take a second to reassure the patron that they did the right thing in coming to you. They did – and you would be doing the right thing by taking their concerns seriously.
It is worth remembering that not all venue staff are trained to deal with incidents of spiking. While researching this article, we spoke to a long-time pub staffer who has worked in several different establishments during his career. He stated that, prior to recently receiving training, only one venue he had worked at had offered any training in dealing with incidents of spiking. Bar staff may well be in the dark about what to do, so you may have to guide them through it as well.
In any instance, security operatives play an important role in situations like these. In October 2021, 25-year-old Swansea resident Kirsty Howells was rushed to A&E after her drink was spiked, causing her to endure a seizure. Thankfully, she has since made a full recovery. Bar staff and venue security acted quickly to get her the help she needed. Of the incident, Kirsty said, “Bouncers rang my partner who came to pick me up. I’m really grateful for that, because I have no idea what might have happened had they not helped me.”
Miss Howell told reporters, “It’s one of those things where you think it’s never going to happen to you or someone you know, but it can happen to anyone.” We would all be wise to heed these words.
Are There Any Strategies to Prevent Drink Spiking?
Drinks are usually spiked when left unattended, or when the victim is momentarily distracted by something. An attacker may be sitting beside their intended victim, even talking to them, before directing their attention to something behind them and spiking the drink as the victim turns to see what’s going on.
Alternatively, a victim may get up to greet a friend or visit the restroom and come back to find that their drink has been spiked. Remember, spiking a drink is as simple as pouring something into a glass – it can be done in just a couple of seconds.
With substances that are so difficult to detect and a method of delivery that takes as little as 3 seconds, it can be very difficult for people to protect themselves from spiking. Nevertheless, there are a few preventative strategies worth recommending.
I) Don’t go out alone. If a person is alone, they are at a significantly higher risk of their drink being spiked. This is because they make an easy target, as well as being easier to distract. A person who is accompanied by one or two trusted friends, on the other hand, presents a far more difficult challenge to would-be drink spikers.
II) Cover all drinks. Drinking from a bottle is recommended to people that are worried about drink spiking. Not only is it harder for would-be attackers to pour drugs into the neck of a bottle, it is also very easy for people to cover the top of a bottle with their finger or thumb when not drinking from it. Many bars now offer devices called ‘bottle stoppers’, which cover the drinks for the customer, so it’s worth asking about those (or recommending them to a venue’s management). If drinking from a glass, it is possible to cover the glass with a beer mat. It’s not a perfect solution, by any means, but it does add a small layer of protection.
III) Never leave a drink unattended. This one should go without saying, but the easiest way for an attacker to spike a drink is for that drink to be left alone for any period of time. Only leave a drink with someone (for example, to use the restroom or answer a phone call) if you know that person well and trust them.
IV) Keep an eye on the drink. Heed the advice given above and look out for changes to the drink, such as alterations in colour, extra bubbles or ‘dust’ on the ice. As the person lifts their glass to take a mouthful, they should examine the drink a little (and put it down if they have any doubts).
V) Never accept drinks from strangers. There’s nothing wrong with buying somebody a drink in order to get to know them better, but if the person receiving the drink didn’t see it get poured into the glass (or if it has been previously opened or tampered with in any way), they should never accept it.
VI) Keep hands on the drink as much as possible. Putting a drink down makes it vulnerable. It also opens up the possibility of drinking the wrong drink by mistake. In either instance, this puts the drinker at risk of spiking. The more a drink is held, the more difficult it will be to spike.
VII) Wear a ‘drink spike’ wristband. A relatively new product, ‘drink spike wristbands’ are available online and come in the form of a paper wristband upon which the wearer can add a small drop of their beverage. The paper will react to the presence of most drugs used by spikers, so this is a very clever and useful accessory to have.
Where possible, we advise that all security operatives encourage these strategies among their friends and family, as well as employing them in their personal lives.
What is Needle Spiking?
Needle spiking, which has the same basic aims as drink spiking, is the act of literally ‘spiking’ a person and injecting them with drugs against their will. These attacks usually take place in busy nightclubs, venues and bars, so it’s definitely something to look out for.
Typically, the symptoms of needle spiking are similar again (as the same or similar substances are usually used). Often, the victim does not know that they have been injected until they wake the following day to discover sore spots or small puncture marks on their bodies.
For now, needle spiking is confined to a handful of cases and is not a widespread form of assault, partly due to the difficulty involved in forcibly injecting a person without their knowledge.
While some critics have used this fact to deny to existence of needle spiking altogether, several GPs have explained that it is theoretically possible to attack a person in this way without their knowledge, especially if that person has been drinking.
The exact size and scope of this particular threat is, at the time of writing, unknown, but we feel that it pays to be aware of it.
What Does the Law Say?
Unsurprisingly, drink spiking (and needle spiking, for that matter, qualifies as a form of assault) is illegal in the UK. Spiking another person’s drink, regardless of the intent, carries with it a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
In 2005, the first custodial sentence for spiking was handed down to a door supervisor named Michael Wright, who was convicted of spiking a female patron’s drink with GHB in an unsuccessful attempt to rape her. Wright was sentenced to 5 years in prison for this crime.
In October of 2021, a Huddersfield man, Stewart Howarth, was sentenced to over 7 years in prison for an incident in 2019 whereby he spiked a woman’s drink with cocaine before she was sexually assaulted and emptying her bank account.
If a robbery or assault does take place following a spiking incident, this will also be punishable under the law. It is also worth pointing out that possession of illegal drugs is a serious offence.
If a person is found guilty of sexual assault by a Magistrate’s Court, they will likely be forced to pay a fine of up to £5000, as well as be sentenced to the maximum statutory imprisonment time.
If a sexual assault case is brought before the Crown Court, it carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Additionally, any person convicted of this kind of sexual assault will likely be placed on the sex offender register for life.
Punishments for theft can vary wildly according to a number of factors, but Crown Court sentences can rise as high as 7 years. If the theft occurs as the result of a spiking, this will also be taken into account during the sentencing.
It seems likely that more sentences of this kind will be handed down if more victims of spiking report the incidents to police.
Drink Spiking in Popular Culture
The discourse surrounding drink spiking has altered radically over the last few decades.
Drink spiking has been used for comedic effect in TV series such as ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Family Guy’. In the case of ‘Seinfeld’ the character George Costanza spiked his former boss’ drink as revenge for his getting fired. In ‘Family Guy’, the character of Glenn Quagmire is frequently depicted as a sexual predator who sometimes engages in spiking in order to have sex with women.
The 2013 song ‘U.O.E.N.O’ by Rocko featured a verse by rapper Rick Ross in which he talked about spiking a woman’s drink without her knowledge before raping her. According to the lyrics, he ‘took her home and enjoyed that – she didn’t even know it’. Ross has denounced drink spiking publicly and the verse has been subsequently removed from remixes, but the song was highly controversial for its apparent promotion of date rape drugs, drink spiking and/or rape culture.
More recently, a 2018 episode of the TV series ‘S.W.A.T’ featured a character whose drink had been spiked. As soon as she became aware of her symptoms, the character called her brother (S.W.A.T team leader Hondo Harrelson), who instructed her to go to the nearest restroom and lock herself in before he attempted to locate her. The issue was handled seriously, with the would-be rapist evading capture.
A recent episode of BBC soap opera ‘Eastenders’ also featured drink spiking.
The more TV shows, films and other media discuss the subject of spiking in an even-handed fashion, as well as exploring the consequences – both for the victim and the attacker, the deeper the reservoir of public knowledge on the subject will ultimately be – and that can only be a good thing in our view.
In November of 2021, Cordelia Stemp, a barmaid in Portsmouth, collapsed and died after stating her belief that her drink had been spiked. Toxicology reports were inconclusive, but her death is certainly a mysterious one – and should definitely raise a proverbial red flag to anybody working in or attending pubs, clubs and venues in the UK.
The previous month, a young woman in Bristol named Ilana El-baz was left temporarily paralyzed after an unknown man drugged her drink. Harrowing footage of El-baz attempting to move was broadcast by the BBC in an attempt to increase public awareness of the issue.
That same month, a young woman named Georgia Latham was rushed to the University Hospital of Wales after her drink was spiked. The doctors told her “you’re not our first tonight”, which is a grim indicator of how widespread and serious a phenomenon drink spiking has become in the UK.
Contrary to some commonly held beliefs, drink spiking is not ‘rare’, nor are incidents of spiking isolated. Anybody who views spiking as essentially harmless could not be more incorrect in their assertions. Drink spiking is an extremely serious issue that can even be life threatening.
In response to this increased threat, Britain has seen women boycotting clubs and bars – especially those that have a seemingly lax attitude to security or where incidents of drink spiking are known to have occurred. These aptly-named ‘Girl’s Night-In‘ events could have an effect on the night time economy in certain areas – an indication not only of how serious the issue is, but also of how little is being seen to be done about it.
That being said, security operatives can’t do everything. They can guard a space and keep it safe from the more obvious, visible threats detailed elsewhere on this site, but in many cases, they are constrained by the rules of the venue. If, for example, a venue does not have a policy of searching patrons on entry, then a security operative will not be able to check if said patron is in possession of any ‘date rape’ drugs or associated paraphernalia.
Britain’s security operatives, as ever, will do their utmost to keep the patrons in their care safe from harm, but in this instance, a lot of the responsibility falls, by necessity, to the patrons themselves. They must be vigilant at all times in order to keep themselves and their companions safe.
We recommend that all suggestions of drink spiking be taken seriously and that every venue do as much as possible to combat the dreadful proliferation of this crime.
Security operatives should read up on the subject and familiarise themselves with the symptoms of drink spiking, signs that a drink has been spiked and proper responses to a drink spiking incident listed above. Tackling drink spiking should be an important part of any security operative’s remit.