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Posted by Dr. Monica Wonnacott | January 26, 2016

The Choking Game: A Deadly Game Teens Play

It’s a bit horrifying the first time you hear about new, potentially deadly games kids are playing. If you haven’t heard the about the latest, the “choking game,” and you have an adolescent, keep reading.

The “choking game” is sometimes called the “fainting game,” “black out,” “the pass out game,” “the scarf game,” “space monkey,” to name a few.

How the “choking game” works

The choking game is a dangerous activity among adolescents wherein a person is choked, either by hands, a belt, a tie, rope, scarf, etc., in order to deprive the brain of oxygen. When the brain is deprived of oxygen one can experience a high or euphoric feeling (that is if it doesn’t kill you or cause permanent brain damage). Participants in the game intend to release the hold just before passing out in order to get a second high as the blood rushes back into the brain. There are modifications of the choking game that include one person taking a deep breath and holding it, while another person hugs the first person from behind. The hug is so tight that it causes the person to feel dizzy and pass out. Sounds like a fun game, right? Wrong.

Is the “choking game” the same as AEA?

No. AEA, autoerotic asphyxia, is the act of strangulation to enhance the pleasure of sexual stimulation. Fortunately, those who participate in it are nearly exclusively adults.

Who plays the choking game?

The current published literature shows that most participants are between the ages of 7-21. It is played both in groups and alone. The choking game is particularly dangerous when played alone because the victim can lose consciousness and be unable to release the tie around his/her neck. It has been suggested that some cases of apparent “suicide,” are really the choking game turned deadly. A recent study by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that of those who died while playing the choking game from 1995-2008, 87% were male, most between the ages of 11-16 (average 13.3 years), most were playing alone, and the parents were unaware of the game.

What are the signs to watch for?

  1. Facial petechiae (little red spots caused by broken capillaries)
  2. Unexplained bruising around the neck
  3. Headaches
  4. Blood-shot eyes
  5. Disorientation after being alone
  6. Ropes, belts, neckties, etc, tied in unusual knots or places (tied to furniture, door knobs, etc.).
  7. Wear marks on furniture

What’s the real harm? (Kids will be kids right? Wrong!)

  1. Unintended death
  2. Seizures
  3. Headaches
  4. Broken bones from falls
  5. Eye hemorrhages
  6. Brain injuries, ranging from mild memory loss or concussion to a permanent vegetative state

As a parent, what should I do?

Unfortunately, there is a misconception that talking to your teen about something you do not want them to do will send them the message that you condone the activity or give them ideas. This simply is not true. Being open, honest, and discussing risky behavior is always the best policy. Start the conversation by asking if they’ve heard of the game and what they know about it. It’s not that the kids who participate in the game are stupid or don’t know better. When asked, they usually express desire for the thrill, buzz, or high. They don’t know how devastating the consequences can be. This is where you can educate them (or talk to your doctor for help). If this article raises awareness enough to motivate just one parent to talk to his/her teen, and that stops the teen from playing a deadly game, then I’ll consider it a success.