BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Neknominate: The Russian roulette of drinking games?
6:51pm Tuesday 18th February 2014 in News
As Gwent's PCC slams online drinking craze Neknominate as a real-life Russian roulette, LAURA LEA looks at the game making headlines and claiming lives.
The premise is this: someone films – and subsequently posts online – a clip of him or herself ‘necking’ alcohol before nominating three others to the same. The idea is those three go on to nominate another three and thus it grows.
But this is not just downing a pint – with each challenge the concoctions get more creative with some featuring cleaning fluids, pet food and even engine oil mixed with alcohol.
What in essence may not seem so different to other student habits or sports team initiations has been propelled into the public eye after being linked to the deaths of three men in the UK as of this Monday. (17th)
Stephen Brookes, 29, of Cardiff collapsed after downing a pint of vodka. He died the following day.
This is binge-drinking, egotistic selfie all rolled into one. Welcome to the age of his is the viral age of drinking games. Cutesy instagrams were never going to cut it, but filming and publicising lends itself to the laddish challenges behind so many drinking games and the online nature of it means the social element of drinking is often entirely displaced.
One 23-year-old from Newport, who did a neknomination with lager, said: “You’re always going to get the ones who go too far. It’s just the whole lad thing.”
He said he had seen numerous nominations including one man dressed in a full scuba-diving outfit in the bath.
But with each challenge the level of creativity steps up too. Another man from Newport – who wishes to remain anonymous – ‘necked’ a combination of Sambucca, Jagermeister and four live goldfish.
Last Wednesday the RSPCA issued a press release reporting a spike of calls to the charity in describing videos of people drinking alcohol with a fish. Unsurprisingly they voiced their concerns at the “horrible craze” and reminded people that eating a live fish was an offence under the Animal Welfare Act.
Verity Worthington vice-president for Newport at the University of South Wales’ students’ union, said: “It’s all over social media. I don’t see a problem with how it started – because obviously there are a lot of other drinking games. But this one has gone a little but further.”
But Adam Smith students’ union president at Coleg Gwent took a slightly tougher line, saying social media sites should accept responsibility. He said: “If a neknomination comes up on someone’s Facebook or Twitter account, social media sites should be removing it and taking that person off the site.”
But NUS Wales deputy president Beth Button said this craze is going beyond the student unions. She said: “The neknominate drinking game is highly dangerous and not limited to students. We’ve seen some incredible tragedies that all started with an little online dare.”
Like others, NUS Wales are attempting to harness the momentum of the craze for more positive outcomes. With the element of daring someone still intact, they say challenge someone to film themselves doing a random act of kindness rather than downing a pint of lager laced with spirits.
Popping up around the internet are now numerous videos of people buying homeless people citizens lunch. But others are just setting random challenges. One woman from Newport has set a pull up nomination, challenging others to beat her personal best, while others have been seen doing press-ups.
Asides from issuing advice, authorities are limited at what they can do to tackle this latest trend. Besides the problem of animal cruelty fish, there are no apparent legal issues. Although last week it was reported that police were to question the person who allegedly ‘neknominated’ Isaac Richardson of South east London. Mr Richardson died on February 8.
While Gwent Police have issued no official statement, police and crime commissioner for Gwent, Ian Johnston has made his opinions quite clear.
He said: “We have seen the dark side of the practice in recent weeks as reports have emerged of people losing their lives after drinking fatal amounts of alcohol.
“It’s encouraging people to do incredibly stupid and reckless things and some are literally playing Russian roulette with their lives by consuming dangerous amounts of alcohol and other substances.
“When taken too far this can be a deadly practice which can destroy lives. As with anything, people should do everything in moderation. They can drink responsibly and enjoy themselves but they shouldn’t feel pressurised to take part in something which could have such catastrophic consequences.”
Mr Johnston went on to suggest the risk to younger people who could be swept into it just like any other craze.
He said: “The danger is that it could appeal to and be taken up by more vulnerable young people who can put themselves in serious harm.”
The resonating message is this risk that this particular game poses is down to its unlimited ability to travel and grow thanks to social media.
But it is due to this same visibility this high profile is the reason it has received so much attention from the media and authorities. If other drinking games were caught on camera and publicised they too may be held up for scrutiny.
There is no dispute as to the consequences of this level of alcohol consumption.
The consequences of this level of alcohol consumption are in no doubt.
Dr Gillian Richardson, executive director of public health at the Aneurin Bevan Health Board, said: “Drinking large amounts of alcohol is incredibly dangerous, and this ‘game’ has already tragically claimed a number of young lives. Having such a high level of alcohol suddenly enter the body is sudden poisoning which can result in the organs being irreversibly damaged.
“Playing this game can be fatal or result in blindness, brain and liver damage. The health board is continually engaged in encouraging those who do wish to drink, to do so in a non-hazardous way.”
For those concerned about the dangers associated with drinking alcohol, there are a number of organisations that offer support.
These include the Wales Drug and Alcohol helpline, telephone 0808 808 2234 or visit dan247.org.uk and Alcohol Concern, call 0300 123 1110 or go online at alcoholconcern.org.uk