Young people are risking their lives by taking part in a social media drinking game linked to two deaths over the weekend, say mental health experts and youth representatives.
The game, “neknomination” is played on social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter and involves a person being videoed as they drink alcohol as fast as they can before nominating someone else to do the same within 24 hours. A global phenomenon that began in Australia, it has gripped Ireland in recent weeks.
The body of Jonny Byrne, 19, was taken from the River Barrow near Milford Bridge, Carlow, shortly after 11am yesterday. The talented hurler, from Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow, posted a video of himself drinking a pint on Saturday shortly before he entered the river.
His brother, Patrick Byrne, took to Facebook yesterday to plead with people to stop neknominations.
“This neck nomination shit HAS TO STOP RIGHT NOW.....My 19 year old brother... thought he had to try and beat the competition and after he necked his pint he jumped into the river... If people have any decency and respect they will refrain from any more of this stupid neck nomination shit,” he wrote.
The death of DJ Ross Cummins, 21, in Dublin on Saturday was also linked to the phenomenon. However, it emerged that while he had taken part earlier in the week, he had drunk vast quantities of whiskey on Friday without posting a video. He died of alcohol poisoning.
One friend posted on Jonny’s Facebook: “He was a warrior on the pitch, a rock in defence and gave 100pc on the pitch... A great hurler and footballer, a gentleman and a greater friend. We are heartbroken.”
The president of the Union of Students in Ireland, Joe O’Connor, said there is a “huge element of peer pressure involved in neknomination and you will see people being bullied online if they won’t participate”.
“There is a constant oneupmanship with it as each person tries to top what the person previous did. This oneupmanship is increasing the risk to the individual all the time. We need to break this cycle.” When it started, neknomination involved drinking a pint of beer but now, people are increasingly speed-drinking pints of spirits. Mr O’Connor described this “as a more dangerous phase”.
France Fitzgerald, the children’s minister, said the online craze was dangerous.
“This is not a game,” she said. “It is a highly dangerous — potentially lethal — phenomenon, where an inappropriate peer pressure element adds to the risks.”
Paul Gilligan, CEO of St Patrick’s Mental Hospital, said young people need to be given the “knowledge and confidence to identify dangerous alcohol-related behaviour and to stop such trends before they begin”.
“We need to look towards introducing the cultural attitude of ‘alcohol use’ as opposed to ‘alcohol misuse’.”
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