The ethics of spiking someone's drink
Dropping acid in your best friend's beer. Bringing weed brownies to the church group’s bake sale. Pouring MDMA into your girlfriend's wine. This is drugging — most commonly carried out by spiking a drink.
Drugging someone without their consent seems inherently unethical. But the stories of scores of young men and women who have drugged others, or been drugged themselves, show that the issue is not so simple.
Some argue that manipulating another’s state of mind without their permission is brain rape — abusive and violative. However, people who have dosed close friends and partners contend that if their intentions are good, clandestine dosing is entirely ethical.
The difference is not their moral compass. The primary difference is their gender.
THE CASE FOR
“Men who have drugged others tell us that their main motive was to have fun, to liven up the party, or to help a friend have a good time,” Dr. Suzanne Swan, psychology professor at the University of South Carolina, says over the phone.
Dr. Swan authored the most comprehensive study on drugging and drink spiking to date, Just a Dare or Unaware? Outcomes and Motives of Drugging (“Drink Spiking”) Among Students at Three College Campuses, in which she surveyed over 6,000 college students about their experience being drugged or drugging others.
“Men who were drugged were also much more likely to say they enjoyed the experience,” Dr. Swan says. Women, on the other hand, far more often had a negative experience and indicated sex or sexual assault as a motive in their drugging.
The persistent underlying pattern — that men generally considered drink spiking as light-hearted fun, while women considered it a malicious offense — was revealed in the anonymous surveys, in yet-to-be-published personal interviews Swan held with druggers and their victims, and in interviews through Rooster.
"Eric" was the reverend at his best friend’s wedding the day he was unknowingly drugged. “It’s always pretty stressful to officiate friends’ weddings because you want it to be meaningful. So during their wedding, I was super anxious and jittery,” Eric says over the phone. “Afterwards, a friend of mine thanked me for the beautiful ceremony, and asked me, ‘Would you like an Altoid? It’s a special Altoid.’ I asked, ‘a Colorado Altoid?’ and he said, ‘yes.’”
While Eric hoped for a marijuana mint to calm his nerves, the candy was actually soaked in liquid LSD. Eric had tried acid once before, but because of the horrible hangover, never wanted to do it again.
Still — his experience was euphoric.
“I felt inexplicably out of my mind, but I proceeded to dance my face off and have a genuinely wonderful time,” Eric says. “Had I known it was acid, I wouldn’t have done it. But I didn’t feel violated at all and ended up having a great experience.”
His LSD-loving buddy gave him an acid-drowned Altoid for an understandable reason — he thinks LSD is awesome, and people should do more of it. He believes that dosing others on the sly is doing them a kindness, and creating an experience they’ll enjoy. And because Eric did enjoy his unexpected trip, he wasn’t upset with his drugger.
This nonchalant attitude about being drugged applied even when the consequences were much worse, according to men Dr. Swan spoke with. “There was one young man who had never tried cocaine and didn’t want to,” Dr. Swan says, “but one day his friend tricked him into it, and after that, the victim ended up developing a very serious addiction to cocaine.”
The addiction quickly became crippling. He soon spent every last dollar on drugs, until he could no longer afford food. “I kept waiting for him to express anger or resentment with his friend, but he never did,” Dr. Swan says. “He didn’t want to see his friend as having hurt him, so he interpreted the experience as something positive.”
Both the men who were drugged and the men who did the drugging approach these incidences from irrationally optimistic perspectives. “When you spike a drink, you’re attempting to control someone else’s experience. Even though you might not have malicious intent, it’s coercive and it’s not respecting their boundaries,” Dr. Swan says. Somehow, however, this coercion can still be seen as doing a friend a favor.
THE CASE AGAINST
In stark opposition to men, ladies are far less likely to find drugging amusing or forgivable — presumably because they’re more often the victims. Dr. Swan’s research revealed that more than 1 in 13 students reported being drugged, with more than twice as many women unwittingly dosed as compared with men.
The outcomes of a spiked drink are often significantly worse for women, as well. Female drugging victims are more likely to suffer an unwanted sexual experience, to black out, or to become physically ill.
From Dr. Swan’s sample, nine participants who’d had their drinks spiked needed medical attention. Several more became victims of crimes: “two participants experienced theft, one almost got hit by a car, and another participant received a charge of driving under the influence,” her study reports.
“Rachel,” a recent college graduate we spoke to over the phone, suffered severely after dating a young man who habitually spiked her drinks with MDMA. “He was really into doing molly, but I wasn’t. So every time he asked me if I wanted to do it with him, I’d turn him down,” Rachel says. “We’d spend a lot of lazy nights in, just drinking wine and watching TV, and sometimes, I’d start feeling really weird, like I was way too drunk. I’d be embarrassed because I suddenly couldn’t function.”
“One night, after only two glasses of wine, I was feeling absolutely out of my mind. I felt so hot that I wanted to take off all my clothes and lie on the tile floor to cool down. I knew something was wrong, so I begged him to take me to the hospital.’ But he told me, ‘Calm down, I just put molly in your wine.’”
“Later on, there would still be incidences where I would know he was putting things in my drink,” Rachel says. And although his habit upset her, she loved him and didn’t want to lose him. But after a while, even when she was completely sober, she still felt insane. “I ended up actually crazy because of these things he was giving to me that I never wanted in the first place,” she says.
“I went into what the doctors said was ‘substance-induced psychosis,’ even though I hadn’t taken any drugs of my own free will. I had to get electroconvulsive therapy treatments. When I got out of the hospital, I was not me for a while. My parents thought I was never gonna be the same person again,” Rachel reflects.
Hers is a severe example of how controlling motives and drugging can create devastating backlash. But whenever one person spikes another’s drink, the same gamble is made. “It’s not right to take those kinds of risks with someone else’s body,” Dr. Swan says.
The ethics of spiking someone’s drink should no longer spark debate. Regardless of gender or good intentions, drugging another can never be well-meaning while violating their bodily integrity. If you offer a dose and they refuse, take the high road, and don’t get them high without their consent.