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The Choking Game: The Deadly Game Surging in Popularity Among (Even the Smartest) Kids & Teens

Children across the country are dying from the "game" being played by increasingly more children and teens. The "game" is generally as shocking to parents, grandparents and other adults as it is to Nathan Hoiosen, a school resource officer with the Nampa Police Department.

"You wish you could just take the kids and shake them and say, 'What are you thinking?"' he said.

Groups of middle-school kids often play the choking game together, not realizing they could die or have brain damage as a result.

It's called the "choking game" and it is being played, most often, by kids in middle school and early high school, ranging in age from 9-14.

Friends choke one another, or choke themselves, pass out, then wait for a 10-second "high" that occurs as oxygen rushes back into their brain. Most of the kids believe the choking game is a safe way to get high -- safer than using drugs or alcohol.

Suffocation Roulette

Thirteen-year-old Gabe Mordecai died last year while playing the "game." His twin brother, Sam, found him with a rope tied around his neck.

"I saw him sitting on the ground with the rope on him and thought he was playing," Sam said in a CBS News report. "I was like, 'Gabe, knock it off.' "

Other Names for The Choking Game:  

  • Pass-out game
  • Fainting game
  • Blackout
  • Funky chicken
  • Space monkey
  • Flat liner
  • Tingling
  • Suffocation roulette
  • Something dreaming game
  • Cloud nine
  • Chinese knock out

Gabe's is just one in a string of deaths in which children suffocate themselves to death while playing the game. In the span of just a few months in Idaho alone, one 13-year-old girl was found hung to death in her closet and a young boy was found hanging from a tree. Some of the deaths have first been mistaken for suicides.

A Two-Part High

Kids are drawn to the game, reportedly, because it gives them a two-part high.

First they become light-headed, which occurs because of reduced blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Next, when the pressure is relieved from the neck or chest, blood surges through the carotid arteries into the brain -- producing a powerful rush.

"It's hard to describe how it feels," said Sam Mordecai. "It's kinda like, just, like, somewhere not on earth, but you're just dreaming, kind of. But then it only lasts for a few seconds and when you wake up … you don't know where you are or what's going on."

After the high, those who are lucky go on unharmed. But, for an increasing number of kids, the game turns deadly or causes brain damage. It's particularly risky when played alone, as no one is around to make sure the child wakes up.

Said Dr. Joel Schwartz, chairman of department of psychiatry at Abington Memorial Hospital:

"Once they begin to get to the point of a blackout, they expect to have the faculty to release the rope and get a rush of blood coming back into the brain. The problem is you can't depend upon your judgment and reasoning. If oxygen is cut to the brain, you won't have the response time or the thinking capacity to know when to stop. That is why so many kids go beyond that point and die."

It's the "Good" Kids Who are Playing

Don't assume your kids are "too smart" to play. Talk to your kids about the dangers of the choking game -- your words will make them think twice before giving it a try.

The kids playing the choking game are not those typically associated with trouble, say child psychologists. They are "A" students, kids with plenty of friends and potentially no signs of a problem.

Again, most of the kids choose to play the choking game thinking it is a "safe" way to get high, unlike drugs and alcohol.

"It is very prevalent. This is an age when kids like to experiment with their bodies and with different feelings," says child psychologist Dr. Lawrence Shapiro. "Younger kids don't know that they can die from this, that it's a very dangerous activity."

Signs to Look For … And How to Protect Your Kids

It's possible for a child to be playing the choking game with no visible signs. That's why it's so important for parents to talk to their kids about the dangers of this game.

Don't assume that your child, grandkids, nieces or nephews are too smart or too responsible to play. Groups of kids all over the country are playing it together -- without realizing that it could kill them or cause permanent brain damage.

The few telltale signs that your child may be playing the choking game include:

  • Bloodshot or red eyes

  • Marks or bruises on the neck

  • Belts, shoelaces, leashes and ropes with strange knots found in your child's bedroom or tied to furniture

  • Frequent severe headaches

  • Locked bedroom doors

  • Disorientation after spending time alone

Whether you are a parent, grandparent, other relative or a concerned friend, please forward this article to, or print it out for, everyone you know with young children. Most parents have never heard of this game, and being aware of it so they can talk with their kids is the only way to prevent more unnecessary and tragic deaths.

Recommended Reading

Crystal Meth Abuse Skyrocketing in Big Cities to Small Towns: Why, and What are the Signs and Risks?

Ecstasy: How Dangerous is This Wildly Popular Drug?


CNN: Boy Dies Playing "Passing Out" Game, Officials Believe

CBS News: Choking Game a Deadly Trend

'Choking Game' Death a Warning for Parents

Kids are Passing Out for a Deadly High

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