drink spiking outcomes
The reasons for drink-spiking have sparked a lot of controversyKENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images

Drink-spiking is often associated with sexual assault, but scientists have now identified other motives to explain the behaviour. Making someone "relax" or spiking drinks "to have fun" are among the reasons gave by some university students to justify putting drugs in fellow revellers' drinks.

In the past, the issue of drink-spiking has been widely discussed in the media, with debates about whether the practice was on the rise or just an urban legend, with people actually losing consciousness because of binge-drinking.

Scientific research however has been lagging behind, with few studies dedicated to identifying the causes and consequences of drink-spiking.

For their part, preventive actions such as the "Watch your drink" campaign have mostly described drugging as a predatory practice leading to sexual assault.

However, figures collected by different forensic medical services and victims' helplines suggest sexual assault happens in no more than one-third of cases.

The latest study, published in the journal Psychology of violence, tries to draw a more comprehensive picture of what happens when someone gets drugged without giving their consent, to better adapt future prevention campaigns.

Sex, fun and relaxing purposes

The researchers used survey data from 6,064 students at three American universities. In total, 7.8% of respondents said they had been drugged, while 1.4% admitted to spiking someone else's drink. The participants also confessed what they viewed as the motive for drugging someone, and not all had to do with sex.

In fact, there were clear differences between genders; while women were more likely to say drink-spiking was intended to sexually assault someone, men were more likely to cite having fun as a motive. Getting others more drunk or high, or "helping them to relax" also appeared as reasons.

Additionally, reported outcomes varied between students. Four out of 5 victims described their experiences as negative, but the rest said they had enjoyed the experience. Women were more negative, reporting sexual assault, blacking out, and getting sick.

Focusing on consent and overdoses

The study is limited by the fact it only focused on students and authors had no actual way of knowing if the victims were actually drugged. "It is possible that some respondents drank too much, or drank a more potent kind of alcohol than they were accustomed to", they wrote.

However, they believe their findings should still promote new kinds of intervention to prevent people from drugging others.

"Because many of those who drug others believe that the behaviour is fun and minimise the risks, interventions could provide information about the dangers of overdosing," lead author Suzanne Swan says."They could also target the issue of consent. Just as people have a fundamental right to consent to sexual activity, they also have the right to know and consent to the substances they ingest".