Date-Rape Drugs: Know Their Effects

Date rape drugs and a glass of wine.
pxhere / CC0 Public Domain

If you're at a bar, at a party, or in some other busy social situation, you have a very good reason for keeping your drink close: Someone could spike it with a date-rape drug. The slang term is "getting roofied," but whatever you call it, it can lower your inhibitions and even render you unconscious—leaving you prey to those with criminal intentions. Both women and men can fall victim to sexual assault.

A Crime of Opportunity

Typically, a date rapist won't spend time with his victim before slipping a drug into a drink. Instead, he watches the victim to monitor drinking habits, intending to later portray him or her as having over-imbibed. A fraction of a second is all he needs to drop some liquid or powder into a drink while you're busy talking, dancing, or visiting the restroom. After the drug takes effect, he makes his move.

Jada, Krista, and Lori, three women who never dreamed they'd deal with the mind- and body-numbing effects of a date-rape drug, described their experiences in a recent interview.

Jada was at a nightclub. “It happened fast,” she said. “I didn’t know anything was wrong until I was well into the high of the drug, until it had already hit me hard.” Likewise, someone slipped a drug into Lori's drink at a fraternity party. She doesn't know when or how it happened. 

Krista, Jada, and Lori say they didn’t watch their drinks as well as they should have.

“I put mine down on the nearest table every time I danced,” Lori said. “I figured, we’re all Greeks. I can trust these people.”

Jada did the same thing at a nightclub. “You think you need to watch your drink because it costs you money, not because somebody might do something to it,” she said. "I was drinking water, so I didn’t think I needed to." 

The Onset

Studies on date rape drugs report intense effects: dizziness, overwhelming fatigue, difficulty staying awake, blackouts, and moments of lucidity followed by blank spots. Detachment—the feeling that you're in a dream or movie, not hearing sounds or hearing them with echoes, and watching things happen without feeling or emotion—is common. You'll have difficulty walking, talking, standing, and controlling your body. Drinking and partaking in recreational drugs makes it more difficult to recognize that you've been roofied. 

“You feel dizzy and really, really tired,” Lori said. Jada agreed: “You feel so tired, like you can’t keep your eyes open, and your whole body seems to be gone. It’s like it’s not even there, and nothing is holding your head up. You feel like you are floating.” 

Given a criminal's over-arching purpose, the most disturbing effects of a date-rape drug, of course, include loss of inhibition and memory. That's the whole point for the rapist: to make you unable to defend yourself against his advances and remember what happened afterward.

Lasting Effects

Most date- rape drugs are completely gone within the first 72 hours of ingestion, although some stick around a while longer.

GHB, a common homemade date-rape drug, is usually gone in 48 hours or less. The toll the drug takes on your body lasts much longer, however. Even after a date-rape drug has left your system, its effects still can ravage your body—much like an excruciating hangover. You'll likely feel tired and nauseated for days. You might vomit within the first 12 hours.  Diarrhea might occur, too.

“I was 20 times more tired after being slipped the roofie than I was after giving birth,” said Jada. 

Krista felt very ill. “I was sick for five days and had to sleep all the time,” she said. “It was like the flu, only worse. I threw up the morning after. I was so tired all the time afterward and had hot flashes. It was awful.” 

Because of the memory-zapping effects, you might have only vague memories of sexual activity.

There might be physical signs, as well. The rapist intends for you to doubt your own recollections. If you have any suspicion that you've been slipped a date-rape drug and have been raped, don't hesitate: Go to an emergency room and tell the medical professionals there. They're trained to help you without judgment; they know the effects of date-rape drugs and can test for their presence in your blood.  They also can check for signs of rape and other abuse, as well as signs the perpetrator might have left of his identity.

What You Can Do to Protect Yourself  

Here are some tips to protect yourself against date-rape drugging:

  • Don’t allow anyone to bring you a drink. Go up to the bar with anyone who offers to buy you one, and never let the drink out of your sight. Preferably, take the drink directly from the bartender or server yourself.
  • Don’t leave your drink unattended—not even for a second.
  • Don’t turn your back on your drink while it sits on a table or bar. Keep it in your hand in front of your body at all times. At the very least, keep it in front of you and in your line of sight.
  • Don’t assume you're safe because you're drinking a non-alcoholic beverage. A potential rapist can’t tell a plain soda or water from a mixed drink.
  • Drink out of bottles or cans when possible. They are harder targets for the quick slip.
  • Don’t let a friend watch your drink for you unless you know and trust him very well. Even if you're sure he'd never slip you a roofie, he might not watch your drink as well as he should.

A Word of Caution: You're Not Immune

Think you don't have to worry about date rape because you're a man? Think again. Date-rape victims are typically female, but the crime can and does happen to men, and men aren't always the perpetrators. Bottom line: Keep your drink and your friends close, and go for help if you think you might have been drugged and/or assaulted.