Neknomination: A suitable case for cultural change

As if Australia’s binge drinking problem was not big enough, now we have invented the phenomenon of ‘neknomination’, which reportedly started in Perth. It involves a person filming themselves ‘necking’ or skolling a large quantity of alcohol, then sending the film to a friend via social media and challenging them to do the same, or more. Five lives have already been lost in Britain and Europe. Through all of this the alcohol industry has been silent. The question GrogWatch wants to ask is where have been the warnings from the industry that drinking this much of their product can be dangerous and cause death? The alcohol industry needs to participate in a national summit to address Australia’s drinking culture.

Neknomination appears to be most popular among young men – the group that is most vulnerable to taking extreme risks, particularly when dared, and it is the group that is most likely to drink massive amounts of alcohol for fun or recreation. But we have also seen Facebook entries where parents have neknominated their own children.

Neknomination spreads as a virtual chain letter, which demands the recipient to drink in ways that are potentially lethal. In one case a man is shown apparently downing a one litre bottle of vodka in less than half a minute. The victims of this phenomenon (we resist calling it a craze) included a young man who skolled two bottles of gin and another who was dared to leap into a river at night after drinking, as reported by The Sydney Morning Herald.

Sometimes neknomination is a form of bullying. It plays on the vulnerability of people who need to fit in, to be accepted, people who are susceptible to peer pressure. To add to the risk some people are dared to drink in hazardous circumstances or places, or when performing dangerous stunts. We would hope recipients return neknominations with a suggestion that the sender consider the consequences; or at least ignore it, and break the chain.

So, where are the warnings? Neknomination highlights the lack of warnings on alcohol containers. Drinkers can buy and overdose on a large volume of alcohol without any warning from the manufacturer that it is a potentially lethal substance. Aspirin packets warn the consumer not to exceed the recommended daily dose, and glues and solvents carry safe use instructions, yet alcohol is a warning-free zone. And none of those products cause the personal and social mayhem generated by use of alcohol.

If anyone was in any doubt that Australians collectively do not respect alcohol, or that we need a national rethink about our drinking customs, neknomination should settle the question.

GrogWatch supports the calls by the NSW Premier for a national summit on alcohol, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald. Our binge drinking culture is an issue that is too big for any single body, or any single layer of government. When a legal product is used deliberately by otherwise normal citizens to incite people to put themselves at risk of lethal harm – and thereby put others at risk too – something has gone seriously wrong.

A national summit involving experts in medicine, law enforcement, public health, education, marketing, youth, all layers of government, and the alcohol industry is required to map out a concerted and consistent response.