The Choking Game
Have you heard of the choking game? It’s no game at all and can have serious consequences for your teen. The choking game is a dangerous practice of tweens and teens in which they self-strangulate in order to achieve a brief high. The high is the result of oxygen rushing back to the brain.
Adolescents cut off the flow of blood to the brain by strangling themselves with a belt, rope, scarves or their bare hands. When they release the pressure, blood that was blocked up floods the brain all at once which sets off a warm, tingly, floating sensation. Ironically, many teens consider this a safe way to get high without using drugs. Some teens do this as part of a group activity, some do it alone.
Other Names to Listen For
The Choking Games is referred to by numerous other names including: Blackout, Fainting Game, Space Monkey, Dream Game, Suffocation, Roulette, Passout, Flatliner, California High or Choke, Airplaning, American Dream, Funky Chicken, Tingling, Gasp, Scarf Game, Cloud Nine and Purple Hazing.
Reasons for the Game
The Choking Game is a misunderstood activity. Mostly boys and girls between 9-16 years old, nationwide and around the world, engage in the game. These adolescents are generally high-achieving in academics, activities and sports, and don’t want to risk getting caught with drugs or alcohol. The practice is taught through word of mouth and through the internet.
The Choking Game is not new – it has been going on for well over 20 years – but the most recent use of ropes or belts and the growing practice of playing alone have increased its deadliness dramatically. It’s estimated as many as 250 to 1,000 young people die in the United States each year playing some variant of the Choking Game, but it’s difficult to track statistics because many of the cases are reported as suicides.
The danger in this game is due to the brain being deprived of oxygen. Youth intend to release pressure at just the right time before passing out in order to achieve the “high”. However, if they pass out first, the weight of their body pulls on the ropes and they can die. Playing the game in any form causes the permanent death of a large number of brain cells. Within 3 minutes without oxygen to the brain, a person will suffer noticeable brain damage. Between 4 and 5 minutes, a person will die.
The list of possible negative consequences includes brain damage, seizures, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, hemorrhages of the eye, coma, concussions and death.
Also, the rush that the teen gets can be addictive. Many times the Choking Game starts off as a social activity, but adolescents end up doing it alone, which is even more dangerous—nobody’s around to help them if they pass out.
Teens who are playing the choking game show a number of warning signs:
- marks on the neck and/or wearing clothing to cover the neck
- complaints of headaches
- blood shot eyes
- ropes, belts or scarves lying around and/or tied in uncommon ways
- wear marks on furniture such as bed posts or door knobs
- appearing confused or disoriented
- changes in personality, such as overtly aggressive or agitated
- frequent and secretive need for privacy
Reduce the Risks of the Choking Game
The most important thing we can do to reduce the risks of this game is to educate teens. Parents, educators and other adults must explain that choking is NOT a “safe” way to get high. Detail the dangers (listed above in the consequences section) and how quickly they can occur. Discuss with your teen how this is often a group activity and encourage your teen to come to you if any of their friends engage in the activity. In addition, educate your peers – other adults who interact with teenagers such as teachers, neighbors, relatives, etc. – to increase awareness and recognition of the game.