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Fears of drink spiking distract from the dangers of alcohol

A new study of the perceptions of risk found that young people, especially women, may be so scared of having their drink spiked that they completely overlook the dangers of alcohol itself.

The study, conducted at three UK universities in parallel with a similar study in the US, asked students (mostly female) about their knowledge of date-rape drugs, and whether they or someone they knew had had any experience of this.

The researchers found a very high level of awareness of this danger, with over 95% of students having heard of drugs being slipped into people's drinks. More than half of the sample said that they personally knew someone who'd had their drink spiked, but fewer than 5% had experienced this themselves, and none had been subject to a sexual assault as a result.

In the US, college health authorities promote the message that 'alcohol is the biggest date rape drug'. This is borne out in the UK, for example by a study that examined police records of rape cases in which the victim was incapacitated by alcohol or drugs. In 77% of the cases, the only drug present was alcohol.

Students were interviewed on the subject of nights out. First-year female students in particular felt that there was an element of risk involved in going out, largely due to being with people that they didn't know very well. There was some indication that they felt drunkenness was part of this risk, but this tended to be focused on the risk of having a drink spiked, rather than drunkenness directly increasing the risk of assault.

Young women reported a range of strategies for protecting themselves against drink spiking, such as only drinking bottled drinks and keeping a thumb over the neck of the bottle. Alarmingly, some of the strategies would actually increase the risks due to drunkenness, such as avoiding leaving a drink unattended by drinking it very quickly.

References:

Burgess, A., Donovan, P., and Moore, S.E.H. (2009) Embodying Uncertainty? Understanding the Heightened Risk Perception of Drink 'Spiking'. British Journal of Criminology Advance Access. doi: 10.1093/bjc/azp049

Horvath, M.A.H. & Brown, J. (2007) Alcohol as drug of choice: Is drug-assisted rape a misnomer? Psychology, Crime and Law, 13(5), 417-429.