Over the course of the last couple of weeks, most students in the UK will have become aware of a phenomenon known as 'Neknominate', or 'Neck and Nominate'. Young people post a video of themselves downing a pint or a bottle of any alcoholic beverage, before nominating others to do the same. Those who have posted that video will have been nominated by someone else beforehand, and those who they have chosen will in turn nominate others in their own videos.
It's unsurprising that Neknominate has caught on so quickly. Many of the videos are funny, or involve students doing daring activities which typically attract attention on the internet. There is also the element of competition; such videos give young people who can down drinks exceedingly quickly a platform to showcase their talent, and create a virtual stage upon which this contest of speed-drinking has grown to inconceivable proportions.
Despite its popularity, Neknominate is undoubtedly emblematic of the most harmful side of student drinking culture. The videos themselves draw applause for excessive consumption of alcohol, without concern for our own safety or health, and encourage drinking simply for the sake of drinking. Moreover, they demonstrate the role of peer pressure in student drinking habits, which is nowadays amplified by the fact that our social lives, like these videos, are broadcast across social media.
There are two prerequisites for any Neknominate video: downing a drink and nominating others. It is widely accepted that students in the UK drink excessively; binge-drinking itself is not a modern phenomenon, students have held such a reputation since the 70s and 80s, but it is one which has escalated in recent years. The vast majority of students in the UK will engage in activities which involve the excessive consumption of alcohol at some point during their time at university.
The practice itself of downing drinks is often linked to binge drinking, but it is perhaps the most extreme side of it. As a woman, you can technically binge drink if you consume two pints of lager in a day, and as a man you'd need to consume just three. Evidently, most students consume more than that on a night out, but they can get very drunk without actually downing drinks. Doing so, one could argue, is to drink not only excessively, but dangerously.
Finishing a pint of beer in a matter of seconds, or a bottle of spirits in a matter of minutes, is a manner of getting drunk far more quickly than is otherwise possible. A single pint of beer is not going to do much damage, in the majority of cases, but it is often the precursor to even heavier drinking. A bottle of spirits, however, has the potential to have an immediate and destructive effect upon the body, and may lead to alcohol poisoning or worse.
The popularity of Neknominate underlines this aspect of student attitudes to drinking, in that it encourages young people to prioritise getting drunk quickly over the potential threat to their health. Many students will argue that they will stop drinking after university, but by then the damage may already have been done. The vast majority of research suggests that rates of liver disease are set to rise in the UK, in parallel with the proliferation of binge-drinking.
The threat such drinking poses to our health is not only a long-term one; every year hundreds of people in the UK die from alcohol poisoning alone, and thousands die from alcohol-related causes. Of these, students are a minority, but the threat posed by the excessive consumption of alcohol is very real. One Devon student has already been admitted to hospital following a Neknominate challenge, and a Dublin DJ has recently been found dead after reportedly filming a Neknominate video.
Safety aside, as student attitudes to drinking would have it, there is a more basic problem with the kind of drinking exhibited in Neknominate videos. All of those who take part are drinking simply for the sake of drinking, rather than because they want to enjoy a drink. For many British young people and students, drinking is a means to an end, a manner of getting drunk and having a good time. Such drinking is alcohol abuse, and worryingly reminiscent of alcoholism further down the line.
Peer pressure is something which characterises many experiences of student drinking, and Neknominate is not spared from that list. The very nature of the challenge means that it is self-perpetuating, and proliferates through the domino effect of nominations. Peer pressure is thus integral to Neknominate's existence as a social phenomenon; it wholly embodies that side of student drinking culture, and shows how powerful its influence can be.
Nominees are also given a time deadline of twenty four hours. Once nominated, most young people feel they have very little choice in whether they take part or not. This is largely due to the medium of social media; there is an expectation that you will complete the challenge, and the pressure mounts to do so, because the person nominating and the nominee often share many Facebook friends who act as invisible witnesses.
Social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter have heavily imprinted our social lives in the UK. There is now a pressure to make sure that your online identity looks like they are constantly having fun, or doing interesting things. Neknominate is an extension of this, and most students will happily take part because it shows them to be having a good time. All of these factors conspire to make it almost irresistible to take part, even if you don't want to.
That is not to say that students don't enjoy completing the challenge, they undoubtedly do. Neknominate videos regularly get tens or hundreds of likes, a reflection of their general popularity and our attitudes to drinking. On the other hand, it seems that those who take part are, perhaps inadvertently, prioritising their social lives and popularity on social media over their immediate safety, and over their health in the long-term.
Of course, providing that you survive the challenge, one Neknominate video isn't likely to have a significant and detrimental effect upon your health in the long run. Yet these videos are symptomatic of a drinking culture which encourages the consumption excessive amounts of alcohol to impress others, or simply for the sake of it. They demonstrate the lengths to which students will go to gain notoriety, or simply to avoid the social ridicule of bucking the trend.