Any drug that alters a person’s consciousness in a way that makes self-defense or sound decision-making difficult can be a date rape drug.
Most estimates suggest that at least 25 percent or 1 in 4 of American women have been sexually assaulted or raped. Someone the victim knows, sometimes with the assistance of a date rape drug, commits most rapes.
Knowing the most common date rape drugs, their side effects, and the signs of a perpetrator planning to use one can prevent victimization.
Fast facts on date rape drugs:
- Many people worry about a perpetrator adding a date rape drug to an alcoholic drink.
- The primary sign of being drugged is a sudden, unexplained change in consciousness.
- A person who thinks they may have been drugged should seek safety first and foremost.
Date rape drugs make a sexual assault, including rape easier in one or more ways, such as:
- making a victim more compliant and less able to say no
- weakening a victim so they are unable to resist or fight back
- making a victim fully or partially unconscious
- weakening a victim’s inhibitions, so they consent to sexual activity they may otherwise decline
Any drug that changes a potential victim’s state of mind, including some prescription drugs, street drugs such as heroin, and popular drugs such as marijuana, can be a date rape drug.
The most common date rape drugs are:
Alcohol is the most popular and most readily available date rape drug. About half of acquaintance rapes involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, victim, or both. On college campuses, which are a common setting for rape, alcohol-related rape is especially common.
Alcohol lowers a person’s inhibitions, makes victims less aware of their surroundings and is often readily consumed by victims. It can also spur aggressive behavior by rapists and increase their willingness to harm others.
Benzodiazepines are a class of anti-anxiety drugs that can also cause people to feel sleepy. A number of these drugs, including Xanax (alprazolam) and Klonopin (clonazepam), can be used as date rape drugs.
The most popular benzodiazepine date rape drug is Rohypnol (flunitrazepam). Rohypnol causes a victim to feel very relaxed, weakens their muscles, and may cause loss of muscle control. Some victims lose consciousness or feel dizzy and confused.
After Rohypnol wears off, some victims do not remember what happened. Rohypnol comes in pill form but can be dissolved in liquid, such as an alcoholic drink.
Ketamine is an anesthetic that acts quickly to cause feelings of relaxation. Victims may lose consciousness or be confused and compliant. They might not remember what happened while under the influence of the drug.
Unlike most other date rape drugs, ketamine acts almost immediately. A victim may not have time to realize they have been drugged.
At high doses, ketamine can cause breathing problems that may be fatal.
Ketamine comes as a white powder that may change the taste of someone’s drink. Consequently, perpetrators sometimes use it in strong-tasting alcoholic beverages that may disguise the drug’s presence.
Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) is a drug form of a neurotransmitter that naturally occurs in the body. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that help nerves send and receive signals.
GHB slows activity in the central nervous system, making users feel groggy, sleepy, and potentially confused.
At low doses, GHB can cause nausea and vomiting. At higher doses, it can cause loss of consciousness, seizures, difficulty seeing, and the inability to recall what happened when drugged.
GHB is easy to overdose on and is often manufactured in home “labs.” Consequently, victims may become extremely sick after being drugged with GHB and it can be fatal.
GHB is a colorless, odorless liquid so a victim may have no idea they have been drugged.
Other date rape drugs
Any drug that changes a victim’s consciousness can be used to facilitate date rape.
In some cases, the victim might even ingest the drug willingly. A person who uses heroin, for example, may be so intoxicated that they do not realize a perpetrator is attempting to rape them.
People who use drugs should, therefore, avoid taking them around certain acquaintances or in settings that might facilitate date rape.
A person who has recently accepted a drink from another person, even a friend, or who has left their drink unattended should be cautious.
Some signs to watch for include:
- feeling drunk despite not having drunk any alcohol
- feeling confused or disoriented
- losing consciousness
- not remembering how you got somewhere
- being unable to remember anything after drinking
- waking up feeling confused, hungover, or unable to recall the night before
- genital or urinary pain and difficulty remembering what happened
- torn clothes
Date rape drug or severe intoxication?
It can be hard to distinguish the effects of a date rape drug from those of alcohol, particularly after consuming large quantities of liquor.
People who are accustomed to the effects of alcohol should consider how they normally feel after drinking or when intoxicated. An unexplained change in a person’s reactions to alcohol could mean a date rape drug is involved.
A person who feels significantly drunker than usual should consider the possibility that they have been drugged. The only way to know for sure is to seek medical testing.
It is possible to lose consciousness quickly, so a person should not waste time trying to find the perpetrator or researching whether their symptoms match those of a date rape drug.
Instead, they should immediately tell a trusted friend that they suspect they may have been drugged. They or a friend should call for emergency help by dialing 911 then get themselves to a safe place.
They may want to ask a friend for a ride home or go to a public location and tell someone about the drugging.
Next, they should seek emergency medical care. Date rape drugs leave the body within a few hours, leaving no trace. After going to the emergency room or calling 911, a person should tell the doctor, nurse, or dispatcher that they may have been drugged and request immediate testing.
A person who wakes up to signs they may have been drugged must also seek emergency medical care. A hospital can use a rape kit to test for signs of sexual assault. If the police catch a perpetrator, this kit can be used to prove their guilt.
To preserve evidence, a potential victim should avoid showering or bathing until after the exam is complete.
A person who thinks they may have been a victim of a sexual assault may want to consider contacting their local rape crisis center. The center may be able to send a victim advocate to the hospital or offer phone counseling. To find a rape crisis center, click here.
Some simple strategies can protect against date rape drugs:
- Avoid drinking large quantities of alcohol around strangers.
- Adopt the buddy system, always go out with a friend and look out for one another.
- Never leave a drink unattended.
- Never accept a drink from a stranger.
- Never leave somewhere with a stranger, particularly after drinking.
Date rape is never the victim’s fault, yet many victims feel guilty or ashamed. That guilt can prevent them from seeking medical care or reaching out for support to help them recover.
Rapists are the only people responsible for rape.
By acting quickly when a person thinks they might have been drugged or raped, they can protect themselves, help to catch the perpetrator, and potentially mitigate the dangerous effects of date rape drugs.