Recent media reports suggest drink spiking at pubs and clubs may be on the rise.
“Drink spiking” is when someone puts alcohol or other drugs into another person’s drink without their knowledge.
It can include:
putting alcohol into a non-alcoholic drink
adding extra alcohol to an alcoholic drink
slipping prescription or illegal drugs into an alcoholic or non-alcholic drink.
Alcohol is actually the drug most commonly used in drink spiking.
The use of other drugs, such as benzodiazepines (like Rohypnol), GHB or ketamine is relatively rare.
These drugs are colourless and odourless so they are less easily detected. They cause drowsiness, and can cause “blackouts” and memory loss at high doses.
Perpetrators may spike victims’ drinks to commit sexual assault. But according to the data, the most common type of drink spiking is to “prank” someone or some other non-criminal motive.
So how can you know if your drink has been spiked, and as a society, how can we prevent it?
How often does it happen?
We don’t have very good data on how often drink spiking occurs. It’s often not reported to police because victims can’t remember what has happened.
If a perpetrator sexually assaults someone after spiking their drink, there are many complex reasons why victims may not want to report to police.
One study, published in 2004, estimated there were about 3,000 to 4,000 suspected drink spiking incidents a year in Australia. It estimated less than 15% of incidents were reported to police.
It found four out of five victims were women. About half were under 24 years old and around one-third aged 25-34. Two-thirds of the suspected incidents occurred in licensed venues like pubs and clubs.
According to an Australian study from 2006, around 3% of adult sexual assault cases occurred after perpetrators intentionally drugged victims outside of their knowledge.
It’s crucial to note that sexual assault is a moral and legal violation, whether or not the victim was intoxicated and whether or not the victim became intoxicated voluntarily.
How can you know if it’s happened to you?
Some of the warning signs your drink might have been spiked include:
feeling lightheaded, or like you might faint
feeling quite sick or very tired
feeling drunk despite only having a very small amount of alcohol
feeling uncomfortable and confused when you wake up, with blanks in your memory about what happened the previous night.
If you think your drink has been spiked, you should ask someone you trust to get you to a safe place, or talk to venue staff or security if you’re at a licensed venue. If you feel very unwell you should seek medical attention.
If you believe your drink has been spiked or you have been sexually assaulted, seeking prompt medical attention can assist in subsequent criminal prosecution. Medical staff can perform a blood test for traces of drugs in your system.
How can drink spiking be prevented?
Most drink spiking occurs at licensed venues like pubs and clubs. Licensees and people who serve alcohol have a responsibility to provide a safe environment for patrons, and have an important role to play in preventing drink spiking.
This includes having clear procedures in place to ensure staff understand the signs of drink spiking, including with alcohol.
Preventing drink spiking is a collective responsibility, not something to be shouldered by potential victims.
Licensees can take responsible steps including:
removing unattended glasses
reporting suspicious behaviour
declining customer requests to add extra alcohol to a person’s drink
supplying water taps instead of large water jugs
promoting responsible consumption of alcohol, including discouraging rapid drinking
being aware of “red flag” drink requests, such as repeated shots, or double or triple shots, or adding vodka to beer or wine.
A few simple precautions everyone can take to reduce the risk of drink spiking include:
have your drink close to you, keep an eye on it and don’t leave it unattended
avoid sharing beverages with other people
purchase or pour your drinks yourself
if you’re offered a drink by someone you don’t know well, go to the bar with them and watch the bartender pour your drink
if you think your drink tastes weird, pour it out
keep an eye on your friends and their beverages too.
What are the consequences for drink spiking in Australia?
It’s a criminal offence to spike someone’s drink with alcohol or other drugs without their consent in all states and territories.
In some jurisdictions, there are specific drink and food spiking laws. For example, in Victoria, the punishment is up to two years imprisonment.
In other jurisdictions, such as Tasmania, drink spiking comes under broader offences such as “administering any poison or other noxious thing with intent to injure or annoy”.
Spiking someone’s drink with an intent to commit a serious criminal offence, such as sexual assault, usually comes with very severe penalties. For example, this carries a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment in Queensland.
There are some ambiguities in the criminal law. For example, some laws aren’t clear about whether drink spiking with alcohol is an offence.
However, in all states and territories, if someone is substantially intoxicated with alcohol or other drugs it’s good evidence they aren’t able to give consent to sex. Sex with a substantially intoxicated person who’s unable to consent may constitute rape or another sexual assault offence.
In an emergency, call triple zero (000) or the nearest police station.
For information about sexual assault, or for counselling or referral, call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).
If you’ve been a victim of drink spiking and want to talk to someone, the following confidential services can help:
- Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
- Kids Helpline (5-25 year olds): 1800 55 1800
- National Alcohol and other Drug Hotline: 1800 250 015.
Authors: Nicole Lee, Professor at the National Drug Research Institute (Melbourne), Curtin University