If you want to know exactly how many Americans have their drinks or food spiked each year, that number may not be so easy to find.
According to the Office on Women’s Health, date-rape drugs like Rohypnol, GHB, and ketamine are used because they are not easily detected, and victims often do not remember being drugged or assaulted until many hours later. In 2016, there were over 320,000 incidents of rape and sexual assault, and these incidents are often underreported for both women and men. According to RAINN, 11.2 percent of college students experience rape or sexual assault through force, violence, or incapacitation, and in terms of drug-facilitated sexual assault, alcohol is the No. 1 substance for assailants, next to prescription drugs with tranquilizing effects and Rohypnol, ketamine, GHB, and ecstasy.
For this study, we surveyed over 900 people to determine the prevalence of drink or food spiking and then studied the experiences of over 200 respondents who’ve previously had drinks or food spiked to understand the scope of this issue today.
Suspected Drinks or Food
Substances often used to spike drinks or food can be added without detection. Out of the 969 people surveyed, 44 percent of men and 56 percent of women unknowingly consumed spiked food or drinks. Out of this group, 37 percent had drinks or food spiked multiple times.
Over half of these spiking situations took place while respondents were in college, and 19 percent happened to participants in high school. Roughly 20.4 million students were enrolled in college in 2017, and given that many people encounter spiking in college, that could mean millions of students could potentially endure the experience of having their drinks or food spiked in the future. But the biggest challenge may be identifying spiking symptoms – which may be confused with the effects of binge drinking.
How to Know if Your Drink Has Been Spiked: Seeing the Signs
Here, we’ve outlined several symptoms a person might experience after unknowingly having their alcohol mixed with each substance. Because consuming alcohol in the first place can have a variety of physical and psychological effects, it may be hard to differentiate what’s normal and what’s not. People may experience similar symptoms despite the use of different substances, however – most notably, extreme drowsiness and comprised cognitive and physical abilities.
Across the U.S., someone is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds.
While 50 percent of women had their drinks or food spiked by a stranger, 32 percent of men were targeted by an unknown assailant. However, 42 percent of the people who spiked men’s drinks or food were considered friends.
Alcohol was the main substance to be spiked across both genders. However, 83 percent of cases involved a woman having her alcoholic beverage spiked. Sixty-four percent of men had an alcoholic drink spiked, but 28 percent had their food spiked – compared to 10 percent of women.
Despite what most people may think, it wasn’t clubs or bars where respondents reported the largest number of spiking situations.
In fact, 51 percent of men and 46 percent of women reported having drinks or food spiked at a house party. There are plenty of examples of ways you can stay safe while out drinking, and that includes not sitting your drink down or leaving it unattended for any period of time while you’re out.
While music festivals or concerts were the least common locations for spiked substances, a music festival was the scene of one of the most public instances of spiking in recent memory. A woman, recording herself at a music festival in Brazil, caught a man in the background of her video attempting to spike her beverage.
Spiking Side Effects
Across a majority of all of the symptoms studied, women experienced spiking side effects more heavily than men. Research suggests basic biology and chemistry may account for why women may feel the effects of drugs and alcohol more intensely. While 34 percent of men felt confusion when they consumed a spiked drink or food item, 56 percent of women experienced this symptom.
Similarly, when dealing with a loss of balance, 50 percent of women reported experiencing this symptom compared to 28 percent of men.
Men more regularly experienced euphoria, excitement, and aggression as side effects of ingesting a spiked substance.
Symptoms by Substance
Depending on the substance used to spike drinks or food, symptoms vary. For instance, 58 percent of respondents who had drinks or food spiked with a sedative reported slurring their words. This is compared to 26 percent of respondents who had the same symptom after ingesting something spiked with MDMA.
However, feelings of being heavily intoxicated quickly were noted by participants at similar rates – by over 50 percent of respondents who were spiked with either a sedative or MDMA.
You can’t taste these additives once they’ve been dropped into your glass, it’s important to recognize that the symptoms you could experience won’t always be a clear indication that something’s wrong.
Relying on the Law
More than half of men and even more women did not report the person responsible for allegedly spiking their drink to the authorities. Perhaps the reason 52 percent of men and 62 percent of women didn’t was that they didn’t trust the law to hold their assailants accountable.
When academic research needs to preface that drink spiking is “more than a myth,” it’s evidence that a stigma exists around this particular crime. This could be why 58 percent of men and 65 percent of women were not confident their spiking assailants would be held accountable by the law. Only 20 percent of men and 6 percent of women were confident someone would be taken to task.
More Than a Bad Feeling
Around 50 percent of women and men surveyed have had their drinks or food spiked at least once. This is not a minor issue facing Americans. It is also not an act that always involves street drugs being discreetly slipped into a victim’s drink. Most often, alcohol is used to facilitate the crime of drug-assisted sexual assault. What also complicates spiking may be a lack of confidence in reporting the issue or even recognizing the symptoms.
We conducted a preliminary survey of 969 people to determine how many had a drink or food item unknowingly spiked with a drug or alcohol. We then surveyed 246 people who previously had a drink or food item spiked. Their ages were between 19 and 69 years old, with a mean age of 44.5 and a standard deviation in 11.8 years. Fifty-one percent of participants were male and 49 percent were female. All participants who qualified for our study indicated they had been unknowingly spiked with drugs or alcohol, primarily by the way of their beverage, although in some cases, we found respondents had consumed a food item containing marijuana. Data were not statistically tested, and the study is an exploratory look at the situations, symptoms, and experiences of those who were spiked at least once or multiple times in their life.