Sexual Assault/Rape: Alcohol and Other Drugs


Alcohol and Sexual Assault

Various drugs are used to facilitate rape. Alcohol is by far the most frequently used. In a national study of college students, 75% of males and 55% of females involved in date rape had been drinking or using drugs prior to the assault. Alcohol impairs inhibitions, judgment and decision-making. Mixing alcohol and sex puts you at risk for sexual assault, sexually transmitted infections, or simply being in an embarrassing and awkward situation in the morning.

Alcohol use by women makes them more vulnerable to sexual assault. While men, when drinking, are also at increased risk of being sexually victimized, they are also more likely to engage in coercive sexual behaviors - including sexual assault. Alcohol use by people who identify as transgender can also increase the risk of being sexually victimized, and this risk is exacerbated by the discrimination and prejudice often faced by the transgender community. 

  • As many as 70% of college students admit to having engaged in sexual activity primarily as a result of being under the influence of alcohol, or to having sex they wouldn't have had if they had been sober.

  • One in twelve college males admit to having committed acts that met the legal definition of rape.

  • 60% of college women who are infected with STDs, including genital herpes and HIV, report that they were under the influence of alcohol at the time they had intercourse with the infected person.

  • One in five college students abandon safer sex practices when they're drunk, even if they always protect themselves when sober.

Alcohol is sometimes used as an excuse for unacceptable behavior. When a man sexually assaults an acquaintance, he is seen as less responsible for his actions if he was drunk. Our societal double standard, however, results in the woman being seen as "to blame" for the assault if she was intoxicated. People who are transgender can also be impacted by this double standard as their experience of sexual assault can be minimized or invalidated because of gender identity discrimination.  In addition, survivors who were drinking when they were sexually assaulted tend to have more feelings of self-blame. It is important to remember that no one deserves to be raped. Choosing to drink alcohol should not be equated with choosing to be sexually assaulted.

According to state law, a person who is unconscious (passed out), or incapacitated, whether from alcohol, drugs, or illness, cannot give consent to sex. Therefore, if sexual contact occurs, it is sexual assault. When there is any uncertainty about your partner's ability to give consent, it is wise to wait for another time. To engage in sexual activity with someone who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs simply is not worth the risk.

Newer Date Rape Drugs:
Rohypnol, GHB and Ketamine

Rohypnol, GHB and other drugs are sometimes used to facilitate sexual assault. They can be slipped into the drink of an unsuspecting victim, causing incapacitation in just minutes.

  • Rohypnol: What is it?
    Rohypnol (the brand name of Flunitrazepam) is a benzodiazepine like the tranquilizer Valium, yet it is 10 times more potent. Rohypnol has been called the "date rape drug" because of its use in sexual assaults. Rohypnol produces profound, prolonged sedation, a feeling of well being and short-term memory loss. Sedation occurs 15-20 minutes following the administration of just 2 mg of the drug and lasts from 4 to 24 hours.

  • Rohypnol: How Can I Recognize It?
    In the U.S., Rohypnol is commonly found in its 1-or 2-mg tablet form. The drug is targeted at young people for several reasons. One is that Rohypnol is sold very cheaply (a tablet can be bought for under $5). The drug has been re-formulated by the manufacturer with a dye that is supposed to be visible if slipped into a drink. It is also designed to dissolve more slowly and leave a film on the liquid's surface; however, there are copycat drugs coming from other countries that do not have these characteristics.

    In its newest form, Rohypnol is distributed as an olive green, oblong tablet with the # 5Y2 imprinted on it. It's older form was a small, white, round "aspirin like" tablet that could be crushed into a powder. Copycat forms may be any color. It can also be found as a powdered substance. The tablets come packaged in bubble-foil packets and have a "clean, pure" look to them. Some of the common street names for Rohypnol include: roofies, roopies, circles, ruffies, roches, and "the forget pill".

  • Rohypnol: What are the Effects on the Body?
    The effects of Rohypnol are similar to other sedatives: an intoxicated appearance (drowsiness, light-headedness, dizziness), muscle weakness, fatigue, slurred speech, loss of motor coordination, loss of judgment, and amnesia that lasts up to 24 hours. Death has resulted in Rohypnol users due to coma induction or a combination effect of the drug with other drugs, most notably alcohol. Some of the adverse effects include: hallucinations, delirium, convulsions, coma, numbness, nausea, seizures, and sleep disruption. Patterns of abuse involve mixing the drug with alcohol, spiking drinks, including soft drinks in order to commit sexual assault, and ingesting or snorting the drug to boost the effects of cocaine or heroin.

  • GHB: What is it?
    A drug that has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration since 1990 has made an illegal comeback. The substance is called Gamma Hydroxybutyrate, or GHB. It is made from ingredients found in health food and chemical supply stores. GHB is illegal in the U.S. and cannot be bought; however, it is still being clandestinely made and dispensed at night clubs and elsewhere. GHB is sometimes used by athletes because it promotes the release of growth hormones.

  • GHB: What are the Effects on the Body?
    GHB creates deep sedation quickly, like rohypnol, and is considered a "date rape" drug. Known also as Grievous Bodily Harm, Liquid X, Salt Water, Scoop or Easy Lay, GHB in its most common form is a clear liquid; but it may also come in a white, grainy, powdered form. GHB is readily absorbed and reaches the brain quickly. Intoxication effects begin 10 to 20 minutes after drug is taken and typically last up to 4 hours depending on the dosage. A one-half gram quantity of GHB renders the victim helpless to defend against an assault. Side effects include drowsiness, nausea, respiratory distress, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, disorientation, amnesia, coma or even death (especially when combined with alcohol). Overdose can happen quickly.

  • Ketamine: What is it?
    Ketamine hydrochloride, known as Special K and K, is a general anesthetic for human and veterinary use. Ketamine produces effects similar to PCP with the visual effects of LSD. The drug effects can include: distortions in sense of balance, time judgment and ability to communicate, blurred vision, disorientation, trembling, and loss of consciousness for up to 18 to 24 hours, amnesia, high blood pressure, recurrent flash backs, potentially fatal respiratory problems.

    Ketamine sold on the streets comes from diverted legitimate supplies, primarily veterinary clinics. Its appearance is similar to that of pharmaceutical grade cocaine, and it is snorted, placed in alcoholic beverages, or smoked in combination with marijuana. The incidence of ketamine abuse is increasing, and accounts of ketamine abuse appear in reports of parties attended by teenagers and young adults.

How Can I Prevent Becoming a Victim of Date Rape Drugs?

  • Do not accept beverages, including nonalcoholic ones, from someone not known and trusted well.
  • Carry cab money.
  • In a bar, only accept drinks from the bartender or wait staff.
  • Always watch your drink at bars and parties. Never leave your drink unattended. Be aware of what's going on around you.
  • Be alert to behavior of friends. If someone appears much more intoxicated than they should be, considering the amount of alcohol consumed, be concerned and closely monitor the person's behavior.
  • If you feel dizzy, disoriented or physically uncomfortable in any way, tell someone you trust and ask for help in getting home.

What to do if You are Victimized:

If you or a person you know might have been drugged without your knowledge and/or assaulted under the influence of Rohypnol, GHB, Ketamine, or any drug:

  • Call the police (911) for assistance & immediately seek medical help
  • Describe any and all symptoms fully to your physician
  • Make your physician aware that you may have been drugged. It is imperative that you be tested as soon as possible for the drug's presence in your body.
  • Rohypnol can be detected in the blood up to 4 hours after ingestion and in urine up to 48 hours after ingestion. GHB is normally not detectable in blood or urine after only 12 hours.
  • Try not to urinate prior to providing urine samples. If possible, find cups or glasses from which you drank and/or a sample of the suspect beverage, and submit these to the police for laboratory tests. For general information call 1-800-720-1076.
  • Preserve any potential evidence.  Do not shower or bathe or brush your teeth; place clothing items in separate paper bags; leave the scene untouched.

See also
UC Berkeley's Survivor Support website
Sexual Violence Prevention: EmpowerU and Consent Campaign
Campus and Community Resources For Sexual Assault
How You Can Help a Friend Who Has Been Sexually Assaulted/Raped
How Advisers and Faculty Can Help a Student Who Has Been Assaulted/Raped
Sexual Assault/Rape: Medical, Counseling and Educational Services
Unwanted Sex, Sexual Assault and Rape: Advice and Resources for Men

Disclaimer: The information provided here is not intended to diagnose, treat or provide a second opinion on any health problem or disease. It is meant to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between an individual and his/her clinician.

Last Revised: July 2014

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