A new study found that 1 in 16 youth had played a risky “choking game” — with black youth more likely to participate.
The “choking game” involves decreasing the amount of oxygen to the brain, leading to a sensation which some describe as “floaty,” “tingling,” or a euphoric high. Once the person faints and the blood is allowed to return to the brain, a second high is often felt.
Various techniques are used. Some involve hyperventilating followed by a tight bear hug, palms hitting a person chest, or literally choking someone.
Robert J. Nystrom, an author of the study explains the attraction: “It’s a legal kind of high… a way to get a rush.” But, warns that it is no less dangerous than illicit drugs.
“Occasionally, I would get a call from a parent who unfortunately had a son or daughter who died from the game, or had serious injury. They would ask, ‘what do you know about this?’”
Unfortunately, he knew very little, which led to his research in the topic.
This most recent study looked at 7,500 Oregon 8th graders, and not only found an alarming prevalence of participating in this game, but showed an association with other risky behaviors.
“Risk begets risk,” Nystrom says. “Once an adolescent is carrying two or three of the most common risk factors, it’s not unusual to see them engage in other risky behaviors.”
The female youth who participated in the choking game were more likely to have been sexually active, to have used illicit drugs in the last 30 days, or have poor nutrition, in that order. For male youth in the study, substance abuse and sexual activity were factors, but also exposure to violence.
“That helps us start to develop a risk profile in order to inform the pediatric community,” says Nystrom, who has worked in adolescent health for 30 years, with almost two decades at the Oregon Public Health Division.
However, Nystrom says he and the researchers could not explain the difference in rates among black males.
“Oregon demographics are heavily weighted toward whites,” he explains. “We did make the statistical adjustments, but we’re only dealing with small numbers.”
Only 200 black youth were involved in the study.
In previous research, he and his team found that one in four youth who participated in this game had done so more than five times, highlighting the importance of educational intervention.
“We know that youth, if they’re given the right information at the right time, make good decisions.”
The next step for his team is to identify the most effective ways to create awareness for youth and their parents about the symptoms of the “choking game,” and the serious risk of death.