"Spin the Bottle" and "Truth or Dare" aren't the only games preteens and teens play these days - some kids are now participating in a new fad that's anything but innocent child's play.
According to the first government report on this dangerous trend, kids from all across the country are dying from the "choking game" - the extremely risky practice of strangling yourself (or being strangled by someone else) in order to get a quick high from the oxygen being cut off from the brain.
Looking at media reports and two awareness websites about the game, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that at least 82 kids and teens from 31 states have died from the dangerous strangulation game since 1995.
Preteens and young teens are choking, strangling, or hanging themselves (or having a friend do it) with some sort of noose - anything from dog leashes to scarves to bungee cords. And kids are doing something so bizarre and dangerous simply because it offers a fast - and free - high. Depriving the brain of oxygen can induce tingling or a mild euphoria because of its effects on the cells of the nervous system.
The disturbing CDC report says most of the kids who died were:
- boys (87%)
- 11 to 16 years old (89%) (age 13 on average)
- alone when they died (96%)
The report also points out that, according to a 2006 Williams County (Ohio) Youth Health Risk Behavioral Survey, more than 10% of 12- to 18-year-olds and nearly 20% of 17- to 18-year-olds played this potentially fatal game.
According to a CDC research update (separate from the report), kids playing this so-called game can pass out within seconds. And after 3 minutes of hanging or strangling, their balance, memory, and nervous system begin to shut down - which is quickly followed by a senseless accidental death. And those who don't die can lose consciousness (and brain cells), suffer concussions or broken bones when they fall during or after the game, have seizures, and even go into a coma.
What This Means to You
Unfortunately, many parents have never even heard of the choking game - until it's too late. And, even then, they may think it was a suicide rather than a "game" that went horribly wrong.
The only thing you can really do to prevent a tragedy like this is to look for red flags and talk to your kids about just how deadly this new fad is.
Warning signs to watch for, according to the CDC, include:
- red eyes
- "petechiae" on the face (tiny specks of blood that have leaked from small blood vessels in the skin), particularly on the eyelids or the lining of the eyelids and eyes (called the conjunctiva)
- regular, severe headaches
- unusual marks or bruising on the neck
- wearing shirts that cover up the neck, no matter what the weather
- seeming out of it after being alone
- finding strange noose-like objects lying around - things like choke collars, dog leashes, and bungee cords; or ropes, scarves, or belts that are either tied to doorknobs and furniture or tied in knots on the floor
The CDC says it's also wise to listen for any talk of the game, which goes by these other names, too:
- blacking out/blackout
- California choke
- cloud nine
- dream game
- fainting game
- flat liner
- pass-out game
- purple dragon
- purple hazing
- scarf game
- something dreaming game
- space cowboy
- space monkey
- suffocation roulette
- the American dream
Kids and teens may engage in risky behaviors (whether it's the choking game, unsafe sex, drugs, alcohol, or tobacco) for many reasons, including low self-esteem and peer pressure. Other risk factors include:
- low grades or poor school achievement
- hostile, defiant behavior
- tendency to be influenced excessively by peers
- history of behavior problems or drug use by siblings or friends
Of course, some kids may show no warning signs of previous problems whatsoever. They might have heard about the game and simply think it's just a silly, harmless thing to try - it can even seem daring and sort of exciting. But it's important to explain to your kids that it's anything but fun - that playing just once could cost them their lives.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: February 2008
Source: "Unintentional Strangulation Deaths from the "Choking Game" Among Youths Aged 6-19 Years - United States, 1995-2007," Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), Feb. 15, 2008; "Research Update, The Choking Game: CDC's Findings on a Risky Youth Behavior."
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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