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Just in case you’ve been treking across the Sahara with no internet, satellite or smoke signals for the past few weeks, let me explain.  Neknominate is a drinking game, which involves drinking a glass of something alcoholic down in one (“necking” your drink), in a weird place, whilst being filmed.  At the end of the drink you nominate someone else to do the same, then you post the video on Facebook.  The more revolting your drink, or the more outrageous the setting, the more likely it is that people will share your video, and hey presto, you get your fifteen minutes of social media fame.  I’ve seen a woman in Tescos on horseback neknominating next to the chill counter, and numerous young men neknominating with their heads in a loo bowl (original, huh?)

As with all drinking games, people can die, and there have been deaths. These appear to have happened because of the acutely toxic effects of alcohol – drink a bottle of vodka over three days and you might feel pretty ill, but you won’t die.  Drink a pint of neat vodka down in one in less than a minute, and the risks are high – your body can’t handle it, and nor can your brain.

There’s been a lot of outrage in the press about why people would play a game like neknominate, but for me it’s really not that difficult to understand.  Firstly, it’s about the thrill of taking risks (young men are  particularly prone to this, for neurological reasons). Secondly, peer pressure is involved – you’re nominated by someone you know, and it’s on social media so the world can see whether you do it or not.  Thirdly, it’s narcissistic (again, a particular problem for young men and women, whose brains have not developed enough for them to know they are not the centre of the universe – do they really believe the rest of the world cares whether they drink a pint of alcohol down in one?  Yes, they really do.)  Fourthly ,drinking alcohol has already proved a positive experience – a learned behaviour if you like.  Alcohol alters mood, in a good way most of the time and if you get the levels right.  Those neknominating have learnt that from previous episodes of drinking, so why should they believe that the effects of neknominating will be any different?  Fifthly, it’s competitive – you have to go one better than those before you.  Humans are nothing if not competitive.  Sixthly, no-one thinks they’ll die – it’s a bit like smoking in that you don’t think it will get you.  How many of the outraged commentators are ex or current smokers?  How many of them have driven a car too fast to see what it feels like? Thrown themselves down a black run knowing that their skiing wasn’t actually up to it?  Stayed for another drink or six when they know they have to get up for work in the morning?  I smell a little hypocrisy here.

The vast majority of people who participate in neknominate will be fine, ill but fine.  We’ll find some other “youth” behaviour to tut and obsess over next week – legal highs again perhaps, teenage sex, increasingly strong cannabis.  I’m not arguing that we should ignore this stuff.  I just think that doing something effective about it needs to start from a position of understanding why something happens, not from throwing our hands up in horror.

By the way, neknominate stories in the UK appear to be on the wane now, but the US media has got hold of it.  Let’s see what comes out….  Here’s CNN on the subject



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