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No Winners Among Students Playing the Choking Game

Choking game statistics

Choking Game, Pass Out, and Fainting Game—these are all names for a game that nearly 16% of college students questioned at a Texas university admit they have engaged in. But there are no winners among students and others who play the Choking Game, where losing can mean brain damage or death.

The Choking Game is played to get high

Some students as young as tweens and teenagers have been playing a game in which one or more people are choked or suffocated, or they hyperventilate to achieve a high without the risk of getting caught using alcohol or drugs.

According to the DB Foundation (Dangerous Behaviors Foundation), “Every child is at risk of being tempted to ‘play’ this ‘game'." The Foundation notes on its website, which it calls The Official Choking Game Awareness website, that many young people claim “No one ever dies from fainting.”

Any activity that involves preventing the flow of blood to the brain can result in permanent brain damage or death. Yet this fact did not seem to change the minds of the nearly one out of seven college students recently surveyed by The Crime Victims’ Institute at Sam Houston State University.

The Institute’s Director, Glen Kercher, noted that the study was conducted among 837 students at a Texas university “to determine who is playing the game, in what context, and how they learned about it,” all with the goal and “hope that these findings will inform efforts by parents, schools, and community agencies to warn young people about the dangers of participating in the Choking Game.”

The investigators learned the following:

  • 16% of students said they had played the Choking Game, with 72% of them having played it more than once
  • Students first played the game at an average age of 14
  • Most (90%) of students learned about the game from their peers
  • The reason most kids played the game for the first time? Curiosity
  • Males are more likely to play the Choking Game than females
  • Learning about the potential dangers of the game was the reason given by most kids who did not play the game

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One of the survey’s authors, Brittany Longino Smith, noted that “Even though awareness of the Choking Game is growing, it should be noted that encouragement for parents to discuss this activity with their children should still be stressed.”

The DB Foundation explains that once a person has been deprived of oxygen through one of a variety of methods, including but not limited to a bear hug chest compression, choke hold on the neck, or a carotid neck compression, unconsciousness can occur in a matter of seconds.

Within three minutes of continued strangulation, individuals suffer failure of the central nervous system. Death follows soon thereafter. Other consequences of the Choking Game can include broken bones, brain damage, seizures, memory loss, stroke, and retinal hemorrhaging.

The exact number of fatalities and injuries related to the Choking Game are not known because no agency keeps track of the statistics. In 2008, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compiled news media reports to provide an estimate of deaths from the Choking Game and identified 82 “probable” deaths among kids aged 6 to 19 years from 1995 to 2007.

However, the high percentage of students who play the Choking Game, as demonstrated in this new study, is cause for concern. The authors noted that “many of those who engage in this activity do not understand that the practice can be just as deadly as the illegal substances youth have been warned against.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unintentional strangulation deaths from the ‘choking game’ among youths aged 6-19 years—United States, 1995-2007. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2008 Feb 15; 57(6): 141-44

Image: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
DB Foundation
Sam Houston State University