The Choking Game
By Dr. Lisa Boesky, Author of When to Worry—How to Tell if Your Teen Needs Help and What to Do About It
The "Choking Game" typically involves children and adolescents cutting off each other's circulation by choking, strangling, or suffocating their friends until they pass out. The goal is to stop oxygen/blood flow to the brain until a youth goes limp or passes out.
This is usually accomplished by having someone press their thumbs against the victim's carotid artery, holding a belt or rope around their neck, or the victim holding their breath while someone presses their chest/heart against a wall. Once the victim passes out, their friend lets go and releases the pressure. There are a few seconds of tingling and euphoria as teens gain consciousness.
Young people enjoy 1) the light-headedness of reduced blood flow and oxygen to the brain 2) the intense tingling sensation associated with removal of pressure on the neck as blood and oxygen quickly and powerfully surge to the brain. Some children and adolescents engage in the behavior with their friends for hours, often with parents in the very next room.
This behavior is most common among youth between nine and fourteen years old; they learn about it from classmates or the internet. Most young people believe the Choking Game is a fun and legal high without drugs; they are rarely aware of the dangers. Some teens become so addicted to the "high" they play the game alone—using belts, ties, ropes, or dog leashes to choke, strangle, or suffocate themselves. This is particularly dangerous because friends are not around to ensure the victims wake up from passing out and there is no one around to get help. Parents have found their children hanging in the closet with a belt or tie around their neck.
When airflow has been restricted for too long, teens have suffered brain damage from playing the Choking Game, and others have died. Some of these deaths have been mistakenly classified as suicides, but these youth are not trying to kill themselves.
This behavior is sometimes referred to as the Pass Out Game, Tingling Game, Blackout Game, Fainting Game, Space Cowboy, or Space Monkey.
Note: This dangerous game is not limited to young people with major problems or mental health disorders; it is often played by typical children and adolescents seeking excitement and fun.