Staying safe

Staying safe

Practical tips

Here are a few ideas, many of which you’ve probably thought of, some of which you might not, all of which could be useful!

  • Make sure somebody sensible, ideally your parents or carers, knows where you’re going to be, who you’ll be with, and when you expect to be back. If something goes wrong for you for any reason this could be vital.
  • Make sure your phone is fully charged, and if you’re out for a while take a charged up battery pack and lead with you. You don’t want to find you need to make a call and can’t.
  • Make sure your phone has your emergency contact details set so they’re accessible if your screen lock is on (see iPhoneand android instructions).
  • Think about how you’re going to get home ahead of time – plan a route, make sure you have the means to pay if you’ll need to, or even if you don’t think you will (travel pass, cash, card?)
  • Stick with your friends and look out for each other.
  • If you feel uncomfortable or unsafe – find a way to leave and get home.

Have an escape plan

Most people, some time or other, find themselves in a situation they don’t want to be in, at risk of doing things they don’t want to do, and stuck for how to get out of it without losing face, offending or upsetting the people they’re with, or getting in an argument or big chat about why they don’t want to be there any more.

Set up an escape plan ahead of time – with your parents or carers, or a trusted friend or sibling who won’t be with you – so you have an excuse to get away. Here’s what you can do:

  • Agree a simple message, code or emoji that means you need an excuse to get away from a situation. When they get this they call you, and you can decide what you’ll use as an excuse your end.
  • Either make your own way home or get your escape plan partner to collect or meet you as soon as they can.
  • If it’s your parents, in order for this to work they have to promise beforehand not to pass any judgements or ask any questions (the hard part for them!). You’ll be much less likely to contact them, even if you’re desperate, if you know you’ll get in trouble for getting into a sticky situation. Their priority is to get you home and safe anyway. For more on this see here.

Looking after your friends

If anyone is planning to take substances of any sort they need a trustworthy, clear-headed, sensible friend to look out for them. If you’re that friend, here’s some advice to help them stay safe, always remembering the best way to avoid drug-related harm is to avoid taking drugs – both drugs and risk are complicated.

  • Know stuff – make sure they know lots about anything they’re taking, including harm reduction. For advice about individual substances see
  • Stay together – you are the best harm reduction your mate has, so stick with them. 
  • Check in with them regularly– look for physical signs, and get them to tell you if they’re not feeling right. They might look OK but be starting to feel unwell or strange.
  • Don’t mix – mixing substances changes the effect and changes the risk. Some substances mix more riskily than others.
  • Start low, go slow. Anyone taking drugs they’ve got from an illegal source is basically testing it on themselves. They’re self-medicating with something that’s an unknown quantity, unless they’ve been able to get it tested by a professional organisation. Anyone taking that risk can reduce – though not eliminate – it by taking a small amount, giving it plenty of time to have its effect, before deciding whether to go ahead with any more.
  • Remember variable factors affecting risk the substance, the individual, the environment. See our advice on the effects and risks of drugs.
  • Remember the law! Legal consequences can stay with you for life. See our advice on drugs, alcohol and the law.
  • Be in a good space, inside and out. If you’re unwell physically or mentally, or your mood is negative in any way, taking substances is likely to be a negative, and possibly riskier than usual experience.
  • Don’t be afraid to call 999

When to call for help

It’s not uncommon for young people to worry about getting help if things start to go wrong for someone they’re with because they worry about getting in trouble, or getting a friend in trouble, but this is unlikely to happen, and you could literally save someone’s life by getting them professional help.

If these things are happening to someone you’re with, keep a very close eye, and keep checking in with them:

  • pale, cold and clammy skin
  • overheating
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea or vomiting
  • mood changes including excitability, aggression or depression
  • drowsiness
  • loss of coordination
  • confusion or hallucinations.

If any of these things happen, call 999 immediately:

  • Altered breathing pattern or breathing difficulty
  • Choking
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Unconsciousness – get them in the recovery position immediately.

Watch your drink!

Every year in the UK hundreds of people, male and female, report having their drink spiked, in addition to what happens on foreign holidays, or goes unreported because of loss of memory (or embarrassment). The consequences in some cases can be serious, and even fatal.

The most common substance used to spike drinks is alcohol, but so-called ‘date rape drugs’ can also be used, including GHB, benzodiazepines like Valium or Rohypnol, or ketamine. The intention may be sexual assault but may also be robbery, or ‘just for a laugh’.

For a list of signs of spiking to look out for see the NHS website How to avoid spiking:

  • Never take a drink from someone you don’t know well.
  • Never leave your drink unattended, even briefly.
  • If it’s a busy environment keep your hand over your glass or bottle and keep an eye on it all the time.
  • Some places provide plastic stoppers for bottles or covers for glasses. You can get your own supply of spikeys to take out with you.
  • You can also get testing kits which can test for the more common drugs used to spike drinks, but other drugs may also be present.
  • If you think your drink may have been spiked leave it and tell a trusted friend or relative immediately. Remember date rape drugs often have no taste, so be alert to whether the effects are different from what you’d expect from what you’re drinking.

If you think you’ve been spiked:

  • Tell someone you trust. Be wary of accepting help from a stranger.
  • Get to a safe place.
  • If you feel unwell get to a hospital, if possible with someone you trust.
  • If you need urgent help call 999.
  • Report it to the police as soon as possible. Spiking is a criminal offence.

See the NHS website for more information and advice about drink spiking.