By SUSAN DONALDSON JAMES
Neknomination. It's a strange term that may be more recognizable in the United States soon. The worldwide drinking game reportedly killed two young men this week in Britain in separate incidents of speed drinking a lethal concoction of alcohol after being challenged to "outdo" friends.
In this Internet game, players "neck" -- drink all at once -- an outrageous alcoholic drink that might include other ingredients, such as protein powder or even engine oil, then they "nominate" two others to top that feat. The outcome is then usually shared on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.
The craze first got its start in Australia and has been catching on in Britain, according to a report in the Telegraph Telegraph newspaper. Two deaths were also recently reported in Ireland. Just this week, Canadian newspapers began to report the dangerous trend.
In several YouTube videos highlighted on Australia's Breaking News show, both males and females take turns chugging alcohol and "nominating" others to do the same within 24 hours. Videos showed players drinking while driving, on an all-terrain vehicle that spun out of control and at a local McDonald's.
Some of the drinkers performed back flips and other athletic feats while drunk. Others reportedly mixed alcohol with raw eggs.
“We are concerned by reports of the increasing popularity of the drinking dare NekNomination," Rosanna O’Connor, director of alcohol and drugs at Public Health England told ABCNews.com in an email: "The game’s encouragement of participants to outdo each other with ever more reckless stunts brings with it significant risks of alcohol-related harm including acute intoxication, accidents and injury. There is also the potential for cyber bullying of those who are seen to ‘chicken out’. It has already cost lives and we would advise anyone against taking part in the game to avoid putting themselves in a potentially dangerous situation.”
American psychologists told ABCNews.com that they had not heard of the Internet game, but it did not surprise them.
"It's pretty stupid," said Stanley Goldstein, a clinical psychologist from Middletown, N.Y., and author of "Troubled Children, Troubled Parents."
"Kids do all sorts of equally dangerous things," he said.
"When you have kids who don't have a clear sense of who they are, they are more likely to be easily led by others who have the same kind of difficulties," he told ABCNews.com. "Teens think they are immortal and don't understand the dangers. They likely get pushed into this sort of nonsense."
Isaac Richardson, 20, of Colchester, England, was reported to have died Feb. 9 at a backpacker hostel southeast of London. Richardson allegedly drank a bottle of white wine with vodka, a quarter of a bottle of whisky and a can of beer, pledging to "out do others," according to the Telegraph. Witnesses said he attempted to upload a video on Facebook, but soon became too ill.
The Daily Mail reported a second death this month -- Stephen Brookes, 29, of Cardiff, Wales, who reportedly drank a pint of vodka after being dared by a friend.
Ross Cummins, 22, was found unconscious in a house in Dublin and died later in the hospital after playing the game, according to Irish press reports. Jonny Byrne, 19, died Feb. 1 after consuming large amounts of alcohol and then jumping in a river.
Health officials in Ireland and Britain have been worried about this extreme drinking sport because of the social pressures to participate. Its mantra, according to the Independent, is: -- "Neck your drink. Nominate another. Don't break the chain, don't be a d***.
Goldstein said teenagers needed to be better educated about consuming large quantities of alcohol in a short time frame.
While most risk-takers appear to be boys, girls are less apt to be noticed, he said.
"Girls shop lift and jump off cliffs into lakes, which is pretty dangerous," he said. "They don't have a sense of who they are and are led into these kinds of behaviors."
Cranbury, N.J., psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore, said parents should be talking to their teens about neknomination.
"This allows kids to think through the issue before they're in a difficult situation," she said. "Asking works better than telling. Good questions include: Why do you think some kids are drawn to this? Have you heard of anyone doing this? How hard do you think it would be to turn down this kind of dare? The worst risk of this game is death from alcohol poisoning, but what do you think might be some other risks?"
Kennedy-Moore, author of "Smart Parenting for Smart Kids," said that many factors contribute to the "draw" of this drinking game, one of which is "nothing bad will happen to me."
"The publicness of the dares brings up the issue of saving face," she said. "To back away from the dare could feel like publicly announcing, 'I'm not man enough!'
"Parents worry about peer pressure in the sense of someone trying to force their kids to do something they don't want to do," Kennedy-Moore said. "Research tells us that kind of overt pressure is actually quite rare. It's a sign of conflict and makes it less likely the kid will go along with it. The bigger problem is more subtle forms of peer influence in the forms of modeling, laughing, encouraging, approving."
Parents should encourage positive friendships and teens and young adults will be less likely drawn to the game, she said.
Neknomination may not be all that different from other games to which young people have been dangerously drawn and perished.
Dale Galloway of Silva, N.C. lost a 12-year-old son to the choking game in 2007 and has since become president of the Dangerous Behaviors Foundation.
"The [neknomination] game doesn't surprise me," he said. "There wasn't even Internet involved in my son's death, just word of mouth."
Galloway said he remembered a drinking game called "century club" from his days in college, 25 years ago.
"You had to take 100 shots every minute on the minute," he said.
But drinking games like neknomination have the "potential to spread so many more places," he said. "The speed is phenomenal."
"It's on us as parents, and for educators, law enforcement and medical professionals to understand what the consequences are," Galloway said. "You really can't control people's willingness to engage in risky situations, especially when you are dealing with an entity like the Internet."
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