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Video: Teens and the 'choking game'

TODAY
updated 8/18/2005 10:16:03 AM ET 2005-08-18T14:16:03

From coast to coast, some children are playing a deadly game. It's called the pass out game and the youngsters who play it say it's a high without drugs. It’s also an addiction easily hidden from their parents and adults. NBC News correspondent Michael Okwu reports.

It was a bizarre, adolescent game that took 15-year-old Kimberly Wilson's life last week — a game that also killed 13-year-old Gabriel Mordecai.

And when 13-year-old Chelsea Dunn hung herself in the bedroom closet, her parents believed she was playing the game too.

“When the paramedics showed up just the looks on their faces was indescribable,” says Chelsea’s father, Joe.

Video: Family of 'choking game' victim Her mother, Tammy, adds, “She was taken because she chose to do something really stupid and it angers me.”

For many of the nation's middle-school kids, it is an open secret: choking yourself or having a friend do it for you, passing out and reviving — waiting for that euphoric 10 second high as oxygen rushes back to the brain.

Boys and girls alike seem to be playing this asphyxiation game. The most common ages range for kids playing this is between 9 and 14, middle school age and early high school age kids. It is also called blackout, funky chicken, space monkey, flat liner, tingling and suffocation roulette. Whatever they call it, kids are gambling on cheating death.

They choke themselves with belts, ropes, ties, their own bare hands, or in the case of Kimberly Wilson, a bicycle chain lock, to deprive their brains of oxygen and get a drug-like high. Apparently there are two parts to the experience. First, the high is when there’s light-headedness due to reduced blood flow and therefore a reduced flow of oxygen to the brain. The second part, the rush, comes with the removal of pressure on the chest or neck with releases a powerful surge of dammed up blood through the carotid arteries into the brain.

Kids do it to one another or to themselves. It is particularly deadly when they do it alone because there is no one there to be sure they come out of the pass out phase. Some develop brain damage and others die. This is something the kids do not seem to be talking about openly and often the deaths, when they occur, are misdiagnosed as suicides. One expert in Atlanta says more and more kids seem to be doing this and good kids are doing it too.

Some do it because of peer pressure, of course, and most do it for the quick, 5 to 10 second euphoria it creates. Apparently the quest for this high may be addictive.

"It’s like a drug. You'd just be out for half a minute but it feels like you were out for an hour or two," says Ian Max who use to play the pass out game.

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Child psychologists say the children are often not the typically troubled.

"It is very prevalent. This is an age when kids like to experiment with their bodies and with different feelings," says Dr. Lawrence Shapiro.

Sixteen-year-old Kayla Statman says, she doesn't drink or use drugs, but admits she played the game hundreds of times, including a seven hour stretch through the night with Kimberly Wilson a year before Kimberly died.

Statman says, “It's a horrible game. I just won’t stand for it anymore.”

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