Sinead Moriarty: We've always had drinking 'games' but not with the same lethal consequences
The tragic deaths of two young Irish men this weekend in a so-called 'drinking game' is a shocking example of how a supposedly innocent bit of fun can quickly spiral out of control.
'Neknominations', a drinking game that was made popular in Australia, has gathered momentum and popularity here via social media. The game has been enthusiastically adopted by many Irish people – young and not so young – over the last few weeks.
Drinking games are not new; they have been around for a very long time.
When I was in college, the drinking game du jour was the beer bong funnel. The funnel was filled with beer and then it was shot down your throat. Most of it ended up all over you and the floor but those who actually managed to swallow the beer got very drunk, very quickly.
But the difference between then and now is that young people these days have the added pressure of the internet. These new drinking challenges are on a global scale. Whereas it used to be a bunch of good friends trying to outdo each other and prove who was the 'craziest', it is now people all over the globe competing with each other.
With the world watching your attempts to play the game, the stakes are higher, the expectations are greater and the pressure is much more intense. Everyone is looking to push the boundaries and test their limits.
As always, young men are the most likely to partake in drinking competitions and try to prove that they can be 'madder' than the next guy. Young men like to outdo each other; it's in their nature. They are competitive souls, which is fine except when they make foolish decisions that put their lives at risk.
Neknomination involves people being nominated to down alcohol while doing something silly or crazy and then posting a video online. One video shows a man being lowered into a toilet bowl where alcohol has been poured; another shows a man biting the head off a chicken and then downing his beer.
And it's not just the young and foolish who are partaking – middle-aged men who should know better are using it as an excuse to show off too – although it is the young and foolish who are pushing the boundaries of the game and paying the highest price.
Each video tries to outdo the previous one by being more outlandish and extreme, thus building up a frenzy of competition. Nominees are urged to go to greater lengths and those who refuse to participate are jeered at online.
The game is gaining in popularity globally and is particularly popular in Australia among young males. But it is only in Ireland that fatalities have occurred.
In typical Irish fashion, some of our more exuberant young men have upped the stakes of the game by deciding to down cocktails of spirits instead of beer.
No young adult today can claim to be unaware of the recklessness of downing a pint of spirits. Everyone should know that consuming large amounts of alcohol in mere seconds is extremely dangerous and potentially lethal.
Ross Cummins (22) apparently downed a pint of whiskey in a Neknomination challenge and was found dead the next morning.
This tragedy was followed by 19-year-old Jonny Byrne's death. He died in the middle of his Neknomination challenge. It is believed he downed a cocktail of drinks before jumping into the river.
His devastated brother Patrick tweeted about the tragic incident: "My young 19-year-old brother Jonny Byrne from Carlow died tonight in the middle of his nomination. He thought he had to try and beat the competition and after he necked his pint he jumped into river."
Patrick bravely jumped in after his brother to save his life and almost drowned himself in the process. Patrick has called for an end to the craze. "Stop Neknomination before it's too late," he tweeted.
Alcohol Action is extremely concerned about this online fad, reminding us again that drinking large volumes of alcohol in a short period of time can have dangerous consequences.
People need to learn to differentiate between harmless fun and a game that pushes the boundaries of safety.
Drinking to excess to prove to someone, whether they are a so-called 'friend' or a complete stranger on the other side of the world, that you are 'tougher' is not just crazy, it's potentially lethal.