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Why our poisonous lad culture is killing young men

You approach the bar and wait patiently for service. The club is buzzing and you are having a great time, when out of the corner of your eye, they break through the queues and muscle their way to the front. The group are “banting” with each other when one of the pack spots their prey.

“Oi! Oi girl! Oi oi oi… girl!”

The clearly flustered woman is taken aback by the shouts and she quickly grabs a friend’s arm, who leads her through the masses and to relative safety. The group find this hilarious and proceed to neck their shots of Sambuca.

This is the typical “lad culture” described in an NUS report (link) as  a subset of student life that promotes an idea of masculinity, usually expressed through hard drinking and banter. It is a culture that normalises sexual harassment and one that exaggerates this masculinity in the face of a threat to it. Strength in numbers, is it not?

Lad culture has been well-reported and debated, but it has a more poisonous aspect, one that is harming young men and even claiming their lives. An analysis by this reporter found in the past two years, more young men between the age of 17 – 25 were killed by “legal highs” than any other group.

Legal highs are seen by users as legal alternatives to otherwise difficult to obtain substances, such as ecstasy, cocaine or MDMA. They are sold in headshops across Britain or traded on the Internet and delivered to your doorstep. The manufacturers dodge EU law by marking products as “not for human consumption”. It’s all very ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ but the Office of National Statistics claims the substances were a factor in at least 52 deaths in 2012.

The substances are so readily available that young men are using them to get off their face, simply because they can. No one knows what these Purple Bombs or Fairy Dusts contain because they have never been tested. Kids are playing Russian Roulette with their lives and it’s that group of lads at the bar who are feeding into this.

The lad culture is putting pressure on young men to be more like them and be more lad. And they want to be a lad, because then they gain acceptance into these packs rather than be called a pussy who is bringing down their fun.

Karen Vandersypen lost her 20-year-old son, Jimmy, in October 2013 after allegedly smoking a legal high that caused his body to melt down. In her opinion, boys do not want to “look stupid in front of their mates” and in an extreme case of peer pressure, are doing things they are not comfortable with.

It is no surprise that so many young men have lost their lives taking these substances. It is a sad state of affairs when so much potential is squandered because of the lure of a high. But our lad culture is fuelling this and if we do not tackle this mindset at its roots, working with nightclubs and youth leaders to promote awareness of their actions, a further generation of men will have been lost.

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