The Spiked-Drink Myth

Drinking alcohol puts people at high risk for all kinds of misfortunes. Exposure to date-rape drugs, however, doesn’t seem to be one of them.

In a study published in the British Journal of Criminology, more than half of the 200 university students surveyed said they knew someone whose drink had been spiked. But judging from evidence in police and medical records, these numbers are probably highly inflated. For instance, one Australian study of 97 men and women who’d been admitted to an emergency room and claimed their drinks had been spiked found only 9 “plausible” cases. Forensic evidence supported none of those claims; for the most part, the complainants were simply drunk.

Alcohol can be dangerous enough without bringing date-rape drugs into the picture. Drinking is commonly implicated in sexual assault. At least 50 percent of rapes on college campuses are associated with drinking, among both perpetrators and victims. Still, too often, fear of a spiked drink outstrips fear of one drink too many.

“Young women appear to be displacing their anxieties about the consequences of consuming what is in the bottle on to rumors of what could be put there by someone else,” said Dr. Adam Burgess, one of the authors of the British study, in an interview with the Telegraph.

Why the displacement? Guarding against drink-spiking can be a proxy for discussions of problem drinking. Or, as Bruce Schneier wrote in a blog post about the study: the drink-spiking myth serves as a way for “parents and friends to warn young women of excessive drinking without criticizing their personal choices.”


Anonymous

It's a convenient way for girls to protect their reputations when they hook up drunk. If her drink was spiked, then she can't be a slut.

G. Long

Hey "Anonymous,"

If a girl hooks up drunk, then she can't legally consent.

You might want to keep that in mind.

David

So so true. The cognitive dissonance for a girl who's other wise in control of herself to see picture of herself the night before, out of control, dancing on tables, hooking up with whoever, and finally, throwing up on the bathroom floor, can be too much to bear.

Explaining it away by blaming roofies is convenient--not just to avoid embarrassment, because I think often girls in that situation in fact believe they got a roofied--but also to reconcile their behavior with their own perception of their classiness and self-control.

frankenduf

you heard it here first: ambien can be used as a date rape drug (not sure of its effects with alcohol)

NotARapist420

I wonder what percentage of rapes on college campuses are associated with marijuana use?

(Yes, it's a rhetorical question)

?

If the guy hooks up drunk can he consent?

Bobby G

The likelihood of something bad happening when consuming a spiked drink is probably higher then the likelihood when consuming an unspiked (but still alcoholic) drink, mostly ends without major incident. This imbalance probably also results in an existing risk-aversion to consuming possibly spiked drinks and also increased caution when put in possible situations. Not to metion the chance of a story of one or two people with spiked drinks (or someone saying, "Oh, I bet their drink was spiked!") can spread pretty quickly on a university campus resulting in 100 people saying they "know someone" who has had their drink spiked... whether it was fact or just a rumor.

Given all these factors I'm skeptical that any of the data points mentioned in the above article are really proving anything. Yes there's much higher incidence and likelihood of foul play due to alcohol than due to spiked drinks. Not only are the social stigmas much different for these two methods of taking advantage of someone, but the risk of getting caught is arguably higher (and the punishment, socially and legally, much worse) for spiking someone's drink. Add this to the pre-existing caution and you have a society with a high wariness to a particular course of action, already fairly difficult to execute safely, used to take advantage of someone, while alcohol is everywhere, people consume it voluntarily, and "getting someone drunk" can be a fun social event rather than a malicious attempt to violate them.

So I don't think we can look at the hard data and the nuances and say that drink spiking is any more or less dangerous than consuming too much alcohol when it comes to personal violation. When people are more risk averse to one activity than to another which results in lopsided incidence, we cannot go back and say that people are thus "too" cautious about the one activity since it, presently, doesn't happen as often.

Read more...

Sebastian conolly

Or alternatively, it's an understandable response to a society in which women are lambasted as sluts for choosing to have casual sex, whilst men are not only permitted to do so, but often taught that there's nothing wrong with encouraging someone who might not know their alcohol tolerance to drink so much that they consent when they otherwise wouldn't.

David

G. Long, you have no idea what you're talking about. Being drunk does not absolve you of decisions you make, morally or legally.

If a girl passes out, THEN she can't consent, and that constitutes rape. But at a BAC of .08%, or 3-4 drinks for the average 125 lb female, sex does not automatically become rape.

sarahmas

The fact of the matter is that young women DO have drugs slipped into their drinks. 5% of the young people surveyed had plausible claims - that is a significant number! We shouldn't be accepting drinks that we didn't see prepared by the bartender, we shouldn't be leaving drinks unattended, and we should always be aware of ourselves and our surroundings and avoid risky behavior.

That having been said, I am completely disgusted by the flippant answers here. I am horrified. What kind of misogynist claims that young women use the spectre of date rape drugs as an excuse to "hook up" while avoiding judgment?

I am not denying that young women can be irresponsible and get themselves into situations that could have been avoided. That is absolutely true. But when it comes down to it, the aggressor is the aggressor, and the victim is the victim.

David

Also--@NotARapist420: great point. However, the damage is really done when you're so high you can't talk to a girl and end up missing out on an opportunity to (consensually) hook up :)

sarahmas

I read too quickly: it was 10% of those surveyed. TEN percent. And you are trying to tell me this is something we don't need to be concerned about? Unbelievable.

Anonymous2

How is it if a girl has sex while drunk she is not responsible for her actions? If one is driving while drunk, they are responsible for their actions.

Eric Anonymous

Having been a sober member of AA for 32 years, I have heard the stories of many thousands of people who in the aggregate drank many millions of drinks. I can only thing of one guy who ever said he was slipped a mickey. And he wasn't sure.

So the stats are probably true.

BTW: I always knew my limit. When the car was in a ditch and I was sprawled on the ground and the cop had his boot on my chest, his flashlight in my eyes, and Taser electrodes in my back....I knew I could have exactly two more drinks....

Minted

Anonymous, In other words, by projecting their fears onto their children, parents have conveyed their belief/suspicion that all men are the immoral equivalent of the slut i.e., sluggers (who take advantage of girls at every opportunity. Hence the anxiety associated with the potentially spiked drink.

This takes the cake.

JoePa

@sarahmas: From the post: "only 9 “plausible” cases. Forensic evidence supported none of those claims; for the most part, the complainants were simply drunk. "

9 cases may have plausible, but when investigated further the forensic evidence didn't support that. So they weren't slipped anything, they were just that drunk. The author's point stands

David

@sarahmas: I don't think there's anyone here who would be less than horrified at having found out that someone was truly drugged with the intent of rape.

However, the data bear out that this is not often the case, or at least not as often as thought (or claimed). So we are merely trying to reason out the though process by which these false alarms happen. It's not misogynist, chivalrous, or anything else--it's just brainstorming.

The "plausible claims" % is not from a sample of girls at a party. It's from a sample of people who were ADMITTED to the ER AND claimed their drinks were spiked. So to find out that <10% of those claims are even "plausible," let alone true, preempts some important questions about the rationale behind it.

AngelaM

If we wouldn't judge women who like to 'hook up' (and why not?), then maybe they can stop using those excuses. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it, no matter which gender does it. I'd prefer doing away with the double standard that is applied when judging behavior of men and women. A whole lot of that other nonsense would also go away.

Cory

There is a big difference between "knowing someone" and "BEING someone." I'd bet that nearly 100% of respondents would "know" someone named Barack Obama, but very, very few would actually be named Barack Obama.

But I have no doubt that the "spiked drink" excuse is used to justify all sorts of self-imposed problems (particularly when discussing said acts with significant others). I also have no doubt that the unfortunate side-effect is distrust of the claims that are legitimate.

Carl

@sarahmas
It wasn't 10 percent in general survey, it was a meager 10% (plausible) people who say they had a drink spiked. So 9 in 10 cases where people claim they had a drink spiked did NOT in fact have their drink spiked.