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.


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:

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.