The Choking Game
There are plenty of “fads” that people try – the “Cold Water Challenge” from a few years ago, the “Cinnamon Challenge”, and who can forget the recent “Tide Pod Callenge” (for all that is good and holy, please do not try this challenge, it’s dumb and dangerous!). One craze that rears its ugly head every couple of years is the “Choking Game.” This dangerous game has been around for a long time and occurs throughout the United States (and in many other countries, see this interactive map). There was a death attributed to the “Choking Game” in the Madison area within the past few weeks, bringing it back to the forefront. Can we stop calling it a game?!? That makes it sound like something fun, instead of something very, very dangerous. I digress…
The “Choking Game” is where someone (usually a middle schooler) cuts off oxygen to the brain, either by squeezing neck or by compressing the chest. It can be done alone (with belt/scarf/rope/other object to make a noose) or with another person (someone else using hands to squeeze the neck or put pressure on another’s chest). There are plenty of online videos that show you exactly how to do it (thanks, internet). This lack of oxygen causes a feeling of euphoria and then you feel a rush when the obstruction is lifted and blood rushes back to the brain. It is the same mechanism as autoerotic asphyxiation, but done for a different motivation. The “Choking Game” may be attempted for many reasons: curiosity, peer pressure, or wanting to fit in. It’s a way of getting high without using drugs, and may be perceived as safer than drug use. In other words, it’s not just the naughty, rebellious kids who are doing it.
There are many dangerous consequences of this game: A child playing this game could lose consciousness within a minute and die in as little as 2-4 minutes. The risk of brain damage or death is compounded when there is no one to relieve pressure (loosen the noose), reintroduce the flow of oxygen, and restore a child to consciousness. It is hard to figure out how many deaths result from the “Choking Game”, as some deaths from strangulation may be misclassified as a suicide. Other complications of the “Choking Game” include eye damage, changes in heart rate and rhythm, injuries from falling while passing out, or brain damage from prolonged oxygen deprivation.
Parents, make sure you talk to your kids about this dangerous game (like most risk-taking behaviors, kids won’t necessarily bring it up to you unless you ask). Signs to look for include paraphernalia (ropes/scarves/etc tied around furniture), blood shot eyes, headaches, marks on the neck, or unexplained injuries. Make sure to contact a health care provider if you are concerned that someone you know is participating in this activity.