With the trend of the lethal drinking game “Neknominations” becoming mainstream, Amy White wants to reach out to kids with her story … and doesn’t care how uncool you think it is.
I generally don’t care about being cool. For me, it’s not important to be cool in order to have fun, and most people that know me will probably say that I am usually (hmmm, maybe ‘frequently’ is a better choice of words) fun. But this piece isn’t fun, and it might make me very uncool to write it. So be it. But I need to write it because I love my sons—all of them. The two that my husband and I have raised, my new son-in-law, and “My Boys”, as I call the now-grown men who have been in my life since my daughter brought them home as friends during their high school years. This group of men lovingly refers to me as “The Godmother”, and we remain close after these many years. I love my sons’ friends, and my nephews, young and old, too. It is because I love all my boys that I now find myself disheartened and disturbed by a frightening new fad.
There’s a game going around the Internet—Facebook, YouTube, and other social media—that has really struck a chord with me. It’s a drinking challenge called “Neknominations.” The premise is that one friend challenges another friend to down a certain amount of alcohol in a short period of time, while they are being filmed, and then the drinker challenges another friend to do the same. The video is then posted on the Internet, and so it has spread globally, quick as a wildfire. I’m still not clear who determines what is supposed to be drunk, or the quantity to be consumed. But I am clear about a couple of things, including the potential for this game to be very dangerous, perhaps deadly. In fact there are reports already of at least two deaths as a result of the young men involved accepting a drinking challenge, or “nomination.”
The other thing that seems quite clear and irrefutable is the attraction this game seems to hold for boys and young men. From all accounts, most of the participants are male. While it is not at all unusual for men to challenge each other, to dare each other to prove themselves, often by doing something reckless, what concerns me here is the glorification of alcohol in that role, and the potential dangers involved in that. Now, most of us have engaged in games of chance at some time in our lives. Remember playing “Truth or Dare” at parties and sleepovers? Even “Spin the Bottle” and “Red Rover” are games of dare. We’ve challenged each other on the ski slopes, skateboard parks, and unfortunately, foolishly, even in the streets. Many of us have also used alcohol to the point of intoxication, and on occasion have done silly, hopefully easily forgettable and forgivable antics. But the pressure on boys and men to prove themselves is as strong as it ever was, and now the outlet for this “machismo” has taken another deadly turn with this new drinking challenge.
Do all the young people engaging in this behavior know of the potential danger involved? Most likely not. It’s one thing to think you are risking making yourself vomit and causing yourself a two-day hangover. It’s another thing to recognize that what you are doing is possibly fatal. I suspect that many young drinkers don’t realize that. And it’s yet another thing to post the challenges and the “nominations” on the Internet, where other easily influenced young men feel enticed and compelled to live up to the hype and follow the crowd. And blowing up the Internet by those who suffer no more than a hangover or upset stomach certainly adds to the intrigue and enticement, particularly when we hear little about those who have not lived to tell the tale. I know personally of one young man who did survive an alcohol overdose, and I know the pain it caused his family and friends at the time.
I was at the end of my course of treatment for cancer, and four rounds of chemotherapy had taken its toll on me, both mentally and physically. I was relieved to be finished with the chemo infusions, but also very debilitated by their side effects, including a slightly lowered white blood cell count, which not only caused fatigue, but increased my susceptibility to infections. I was purposely limiting my contact with the world outside my home for just a few more days, until my counts were somewhat higher and my immune system a little stronger, hoping to avoid contact with any possible germs floating around “out there.” I was having a quiet evening in bed, watching fluff television, and recovering.
What I didn’t know was that just a few hours later, I would be in that same bed, holding the hand of my child as we cried and prayed into the late late hours for the recovery of a family member who lay in a hospital bed, on a ventilator, near possible death from an alcohol overdose. As my husband called with updates, I longed to be with him, by his side as he cried in anguish and anger and fear. But I could not expose myself to the germs in the local emergency room, nor could I expose my other child to the scene that was unfolding there. So we laid side by side in bed, cried and prayed, cried and prayed. At some point, we slept. But not until my husband called and said, “There’s nothing more they can do now. Now we wait to see if breathing resumes on it’s own, and to then see what the damage is.” Finally, hours later, he returned home with the hopeful news that the doctors felt that they had turned a corner, and our loved one would survive.
Was this overdose purposeful? Not likely. Was it the result of a possible dare? Maybe. We never did find out. Probably it was just a young kid who didn’t know enough about alcohol and body weight and consumption time, to realize that downing an entire bottle of vodka in less than an hour was not only foolish, but possibly lethal.
And therein lies the problem with this game. Older, more experienced drinkers likely know their own personal limits, and can usually distinguish between what might just be dumb and what might be deadly. Of course we still hear of the consequences of alcohol combined with other drugs, often a result of even the most mature adult making a tragic miscalculation. But for the younger, less experienced drinkers, that lack of knowledge can lead to death by alcohol alone. Kids will be kids. Some may be foolish, but most are strongly influenced by what they see and hear on television, radio and the Internet. When our young boys, in particular, see other men engaging in what appears to them to be a fun, social way to spend an evening, and they emulate that, combining it with their youthful bravado, developing machismo, and the pressure from friends and society to prove themselves, then top it with their “nothing bad can happen to me” beliefs of invincibility, the result is unlikely to be positive.
So let’s stop exposing our teenagers and young adults to this game, and to this kind of pressure. Let’s talk to them more, and worry less about being cool. Let’s teach boys that being able to put down a few drinks quickly doesn’t make them a real man, or any tougher or cooler than their peers. Let’s talk to them about how to say “no” to this and the other infinite number of other pressures that beckon them, often toward their own harm or self-destruction. Let’s ask young men to model behavior that is safe, and make it desirable to emulate positive examples. As adults and for those of us who are parents, let’s enjoy a few drinks responsibly among friends, if that’s our “thing,” or even personally irresponsibly, if that’s your choice. But let’s keep it off the Internet. Let’s keep it from going viral. Let’s talk about experiences like my family’s, and other families’ pain where the outcome wasn’t good. Let’s make articles like this one go viral.