Nancy B. Irwin Psy.D


Savannah woke up late the morning after St. Patrick’s Day, feeling strange…groggy, and panicky. It was a workday, and she’d neglected to set her alarm. Not like her at all.  When she saw the time on her nightstand clock, she leaped out of bed, but fell, feeling oddly weak. If she hurried, she could make it to work on time, but she felt so weird. What had she done last night?  Had she relapsed? Why was her 27-year-old brain having a “senior moment?”

“Wait for a second…” she thought, looking down and noticing she still had on half her clothes. Not like her to sleep with her bra on, not to mention her sweater.  Where were her panties? As she looked into the mirror, she questioned: “Why do I still have on make-up?” A creepy sensation radiated through her body from her core.  She felt cold and tingly all over and began moving through her apartment looking for clues as to how she went to sleep with her sweater, bra, and make-up on, and nothing else.  “I certainly remember doing things like this when I was in college and drinking like a fish, but I’ve been sober for 3 years now…..what the…” As she walked through the living room, she noticed the front door was shut, but unlocked, with her keys still hanging in the doorknob in the hallway of the common area. “OMG…” she thought. “My keys were in the doorknob all night!”  She quickly locked it and leaned against it, heart-thumping, head throbbing, eyes darting around half expecting to see someone, calling out, “Hello? Anyone here?”  No answer. She then noticed there were a few flecks of hardened mud on the carpet, leading from the door to her bedroom. Not much, but there were definitely imprints in the carpet of shoes much bigger than her own.

For the life of her, Savannah could not recall how she got home last night, nor who had come with her.  She had lived alone for a few months now since her boyfriend broke up with her and moved out, and she was not in any headspace to have sex with anyone at this point in her life.  Who was here last night?  Should she call the police? But, what would she say? She made some coffee and sat on the couch, scratching her head trying to remember last night.  She had gone to a local sports bar with some other single friends to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  She did recall Julie canceling at the last minute via text.  But Amanda made it, and they sat at the bar, ordered mocktails….then what????

*    *     *

Sadly, Savannah’s experience is hardly rare. Young women (and men, as well as older women and men) wake up with amnesia about the night before. Sexual assaults occur every two minutes, and drug-facilitated rapes have been rising, particularly on holidays where resorts, clubs, and bars are more crowded than usual. This provides easier access for those perpetrators seeking opportunities to have sex with an unresponsive partner. Another reason for this rise may be the spotlight on Bill Cosby, who allegedly raped 40 women with the facilitation of sedatives.

“Date rape” drugs are used to spike non-alcoholic drinks as often as alcoholic beverages, and have no tell-tale scent, flavor, or discoloration.  There are many date rape drugs, but the most common is Rohypnol, whose street name is “roofie,” a strong sedative.  The victim has no idea until she has ingested it, and unless she is very sensitive to this fast-acting drug, will be rendered unconscious and easy prey for a rapist.  Within 20-30 minutes, a victim may begin to experience:  dizziness, difficulty breathing, confusion, feeling drunk even if she is drinking a soda or water, nausea, sweating or feeling chilly, chattering teeth, difficulty walking, blurred vision, and disorientation. Indeed, she may show none of the symptoms and simply lose consciousness. Please note that both genders are victims of sexual assault, yet the author is using the feminine pronoun herein for simplicity; as well, the overwhelming percentage of reported sexual assaults are by females, with only 15% of males reporting sexual assaults. Fully, 60% of all rapes are never reported at all.

The danger of surreptitiously drugging a recovering alcoholic or substance abuser is particularly painful in that, not only can this criminal act be devastating, but it technically breaks sobriety.

Other common date rape drugs are GHB (Gamma Hydroxybutyrate) and Ketamine.  They can all be detected in the body system for 12-72 hours after ingestion. Victims have reported waking up in a cheap hotel, in an alley, in a park, or in their own car, or even their own bed. Perpetrators in a busy venue are simply viewed as stand-up guys taking care of his drunk girlfriend.   They can then go through her purse, learn from her driver’s license or phone where she lives, use her house keys and assault her in her own bed.

If you think you may have been drugged, do not change clothes or shower. Go immediately to Urgent Care, call 911, or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE for a forensic exam/rape kit, including tests for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Unfortunately, the amnesia (partial or full) that is a result of date rape drugs can be long-lasting or permanent.  Depression, anxiety, shame, and guilt frequently follow, as well as potential sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy. Many victims state that living with the unknown is the worst dynamic to live with. Psychotherapy with a trauma expert can help mitigate these effects.

A “healthy paranoia” can help you to enjoy socializing safely:
1. Be careful of what you post on social media.
2. If you do drink alcohol, know your limit.
3. Have a plan with trusted friends and respect it no matter what.
4. Never accept a drink from a stranger.
5. Take your drink with you if you go to the bathroom. Even leaving it with a trusted friend is risky…he/she may get distracted.
6. If assaulted, file a police report and seek immediate medical and psychological help.

Dr. Irwin is a doctor of clinical psychology on staff at Seasons Recovery Center in Malibu ( as a primary therapist and hypnotherapist, and is also in private practice as a certified clinical hypnotist in West Los Angeles (www.drnancyirwin. com). A frequent media guest, she is the author of YOU-TURN: CHANGING DIRECTION IN MIDLIFE (2008) and co-authored BREAKING THROUGH: Stories of Hope & Recovery with Seasons’ clinical director, Dr. Mark Stahlhuth.