Bristol Roundup

Dying to Play the Choking Game


Alex took his last natural breath on October 12, 2013. It was a Saturday night, just before shower time, when the 14-year-old made a critical miscalculation. His mom, Brandi, can painfully recall how she found her son in his bedroom at their home in Burlington, CT: his positioning on the floor; how he must have thought that he would have control; the way he was slouched against his dresser; and the tension of the belt.

It did not immediately seem clear, but it all falls into place now. The signs were there. Alex died while playing the Choking Game, a dangerous practice of tweens and teens in which they self-strangulate in order to achieve a brief high. It is often referred to as the Good Kids’ High.

Unlike other risk-taking behaviors, self-choking often occurs across the spectrum of adolescents. 9-16 is the most common age and it is predominantly male participants who are the fatal victims, although younger and older adolescents along with females are involved.

When you lose a child, hindsight can be as vicious as a recurring nightmare. Alex’s mom can remember a mark on his neck that resembled a hickey. “It almost looked like it could have been a scrape caused by the heel of a shoe,” Brandi remembers.”

Alex was an active kid. He played in wooded areas. He played with others on trampolines. Kids collide. Kids get scrapes and bruises. “I did see signs, but I didn’t know they were signs until I read more about this. Then it all made sense… the mark on his neck.” Brandi cannot hold back the tears. “If I had known of these signs, maybe I could have intervened.”

FACTS OF THE CHOKING GAME (Taken from the DB Foundation, Inc.)
Youth who might participate range in age from 7-21 and it is especially common in middle school-aged children. Survey data indicate boys and girls are equally likely to participate in groups but boys are more likely to attempt it alone. The goal is a desired ‘floaty’, ‘tingling’, ‘high’ sensation. However, not all participants are seeking a ‘high’; some participate as a pastime, out of curiosity, or because of peer pressure. Many do not perceive a risk when engaging in this practice.

Brandi thinks about the shape of the mark on his neck: Could it have looked like a belt buckle? She thinks about the increased requests for Ibuprofen: Why so many headaches? He was sometimes irritable and crabby: But aren’t most teens? “This was not the first time he had done it,” she says.

Brandi remembers a time when she called Alex from his room for some help. She now believes that she interrupted him in the middle of it. “He came out… and he must have just begun getting that rush to his head because he seemed woozy and dazed. If I had known about this (the Choking Game) back then – even if I didn’t think he was doing it – I could have talked to him about it.”

FACTS OF THE CHOKING GAME (Taken from the DB Foundation, Inc.)
The object of the ‘game’ is asphyxiation, to apply pressure restricting oxygen and/or blood flow to the brain. This is accomplished via several methods. Diminishing oxygen to the brain produces a sensation or ‘high’ and the beginning of permanent cell death. When the victim is rendered unconscious, the pressure is released and the secondary ‘high’ of the oxygen/blood rushing to the brain is achieved. If the victim is alone,  there is no one to release the pressure upon unconsciousness and the victim’s own body weight continues to tighten the ligature usually resulting in death.

“We talked to Alex about drugs, sex, and alcohol. He didn’t take crazy risks. He was afraid of getting into trouble. He was more risky about being sneaky with things that wouldn’t hurt him, like playing video games and staying out past curfew,” Brandi adds.”

“We had an awesome family dinner. We were laughing and talking about an upcoming Halloween party. He was a funny kid, always making people laugh. He was a good student looking forward to studying Electrical at Oliver Wolcott Tech. He loved to fish and couldn’t wait to move to our new house on the lake.” As she talks, her tears are so heavy that they sometimes miss her face, landing directly on her sweatshirt or the floor. “Sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday, and in another sense it feels like it’s been forever since I’ve seen or heard my sweet Alex.” 

METHODS (Taken from the DB Foundation, Inc.)
Bear-hug Chest Compression (group), Palms to Chest Compression (group) , Choke-hold neck Compression (group), Hyperventilation combined with any of the previously mentioned (group), Palms to Carotid Neck Compression (group and solo), Hyperventilation with Thumb Blow (solo), Thumb Blow (solo), Ligature (solo).

Brandi has learned a lot about the “Choking Game” since that horrific night five months ago. She has heard from other kids in the area who have also “played” the “game” – some of them knew Alex – and they thank her for talking openly about his death. It has caused some of them to stop. She is sure that there are others in his peer groups who are also taking the same dangerous risks. “A lot of parents I’ve met online – who have lost children from the choking game – had children 13 or 14 (years-old). Many of the circumstances are eerily similar. Many of their death certificates are improperly recorded.”

“I love my son and I miss him so much. I can’t imagine anyone else having to go through this. I’ve met many parents who have lost kids. I belong to a group of a great bunch of mom’s who are unfortunately on the same journey. You don’t realize how many people are living and going through the pain of losing a child… until you are there. Don’t take things for granted. Take in every moment you can with your kids. Just talk to them. They don’t understand consequences. They need to be afraid. They don’t think anything is going to happen to them.”

CONSEQUENCES (Taken from the DB Foundation, Inc.)
Unconsciousness can occur in a matter of seconds. Within three minutes of continued strangulation, basic functions such as memory, balance, and the central nervous system start to fail. Death occurs shortly after. Other consequences include bruises and concussions, broken bones, seizures, brain damage, memory loss, retinal hemorrhaging, and stroke.

Brandi hopes that other parents will have conversations with their children about the dangers of the Choking Game. She documents some of her thoughts about life without Alex on her Facebook page: meetings and discussions with other grieving parents; incidences of her one-year-old son kissing and holding pictures of his older brother; and remembrances of her ‘Sweet Angel.”

Brandi delays her tears, “I can picture Alex… saying, ‘Crap, what did I just do? Oh my God, what did I just do? Mom, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to do this. I should have listened to you when you told me to think before I do something.’”

“Do you know what I mean? I could ‘feel’ him saying that to me,” She continues, tears forming again, voice quivering, “‘I’m sorry Mom, I didn’t know.’”

“Your kids may already know about the game and could be talking about it. It’s too late for me, but not for you. I urge parents to educate themselves and know the signs. This is not a game and children need to know the risks. If it can happen to Alex, it can happen to them.”

The Internet has many resources for those wanting more information about the Choking Game. The following links are a good starting point. Please take the time to explore them.

Set up by families of Choking Game victims, G.A.S.P. is a global nonprofit campaign that fights the “game” through education.  

The Choking Game: Games Adolescents Shouldn’t Play is G.A.S.P.’s short film that parents and children should watch together.

Operation: PARENTS Turn on the Lights – Choking Game is a video that is disturbing, informative, and shocking. The clips are pulled directly from the web and may be too graphic for minors. The final segment shows a teen explaining how the Choking Game is played.

The DB Foundation Inc, also provides valuable information.

51 comments on “Dying to Play the Choking Game

  1. I am so sorry for the loss of Alex. I know exactly how you feel, not from a parents perspective, but as a sibling. I lost my 18 year old brother on May 17th 2012 to this “game”. It tears families apart. It’s been over two years now since we’ve seen his happy face, and I miss him every day. The pain will never leave you, the images in your mind will always be there, but I hope you can take comfort in knowing you raised a smart, handsome, studious young man. My parents said they saw the signs too, but as you, didn’ t know they were signs of anything until it was too late. And like you, my mom was the one who found him. 3 days after he died, I gave birth to my second child, and it breaks my heart every day that he will never meet his uncle. From Ontario, Canada, my heart is with you and my best advise is to keep his memory alive.

  2. so very sorry,your words may help alot of families along there way,thank youn god bless

  3. Brandi, I know what a great mom you are!!! You are a remarkable women! This story had to be told, I can only imagine your pain but for you to get the word out about this Choking Game is awesome! I think schools should use this, kids were doing this when I was in school in the 70’s it is not new. And a lot of times parents would think it was suicide. Spread the word!! Your in my thoughts and prayers daily! I read your Facebook comments and see your pictures. I love that you are keeping Alex’s memories and sharing with everyone!!!!!! xo

  4. <3 xoxo Alex was an amazing kid Iam glad we got to share him being in our family and I know he will live on in our hearts and memories forever ! Brandi and Chris and lil Christopher will always have the love and memories and I know that we all will be together again one day.

  5. For those of you who think this is something new…It is not.. When I was a teenager in the early 1960’s I remember playing this game one time with my brother, his friends and my cousin. We did this to my cousin and he passed out. We had a difficult time reviving him. I can tell you from that experience we were scared and NEVER EVER did this crazy thing again. I am 62 years old now but I will NEVER forget that day. I urge ALL parents to stay informed of your children’s activities. Stay involved in your child’s life even if they feel you are being a nag. I am so thankful I was scared by what we did as kids and we NEVER tried that again.
    I am so sorry for your loss. It is so difficult to lose a child and I can not imagine your pain and grief. Keep speaking out about this horrific practice so that other parents may be informed of this dangerous act. Because of you speaking out you may just save the lives of so many other kids who are trying this dangerous act. It is NOT a game. This is dangerous and it can and will kill you. Parents advise your children if they are engaging in this practice to STOP NOW before it is too late!!

  6. Anonymous

    I’m sorry for your loss. I hate this ‘game’. It took my daughter away just a few weeks ago on Feb. 3, 2014. There are no words to explain this grief. Our kids feel invincible and do not know the dangers of this game.

  7. Thank you for speaking out. I have a 13 year old son and will talk to him tomorrow about this. I am so sorry for your loss. Bless you.

  8. Anonymous

    I am very sorry for your loss . I have lost a brother also went to Wolcott Tech many years ago. They didn’t call it the choking game. They said he was experimenting but we knew afterwards he tried this other times. 41 yrs later and it still stops me in my tracks. Please be strong and it’s NOT Your fault.

  9. Anonymous

    Im so sorry and i did loose a son

  10. Anonymous

    I am a therapist for children and am deeply sorry for your loss . What you have written about the Chocking game is so informative I have put it on my Facebook and printed it to give to the parents of my clients Bless you

  11. Anonymous

    Brandi, you are very brave and compassionate person. The fact that are able to discuss your son’s passing to help others is something not many would be able to do. I lost my 21 year old son 5 1/2 years ago. The first few months were very difficult. I can tell you that once you so through the greiving process, it does get better. Look for signs, they are with us. And don’t ever blame yourself, it was his time. He is in a better place. Remember all the good times. Wishing you peace and best to you and your family.

  12. Anonymous

    My heart bleeds for you and for the other mothers who have commented here who have also lost a child. I will be praying for you all. I don’t know why such things happen; such things that literally bring us to our knees and sometimes make us lose faith in just about everything. I only know it is THEN that we must stay close to God the most. He can and will provide peace if we allow it. Brandi, your courage in sharing this heart wrenching story will undoubtedly save lives. I applaud you with tears. I hope you and your whole family are blessed abundantly with all good things, but most especially with peace. You’ve done a good thing here. Your son must be so proud of you! Remember: The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit! All my love xo

  13. shelley

    Brandi i am so sorry for your loss!im crying as i read this it breaks my heart i cant imagine suffering friend sent me this link a usually i ignore them cause their silly but today i opened itand couldnt believe what it said.i am grateful for u going public with this as i have never knew what this entailed.ive heard of the game it was around when i was a kid though it was played differently! My son is 12 and has had a couple unexplained marks a has a few questionable friends i try to keep distant from him and has had distant behavior as well as being moody that i chalked up to puberty but thanks to u i will be openly discussing this with him as well as making my self more aware of any marks and his actions in behavior! Thank u so much and im so sorry for your loss and to any other families going through this! I think everyone today shpuld give their kids an extra hug and talk to their children about this! May god keep all our children safe!

  14. Brandi, I am so, so sorry for your loss! If you are not involved in a local church, get involved now and take your other child to church early on in life. God is such a comfort and his institution on earth, the church, can be a huge support in your life.

  15. So sorry for your loss. Unfortunate are the stunts one has to do in order to fit in under peer preasure.

  16. Anonymous

    And we continue to pass on how to choke one self. I really feel for these parents. But why are you telling those that don’t know how to do it, to do it. Is anyone concerned with this information. Again I’m sorry for the parents and family. But why pass this on so that someone else’s child will do the same. Only to have the same result. An other death. NO ONE wants that

  17. Kristina L Fields

    Brandi, my son just died 1 month ago, I think it’s because of this game, everyone thinks it’s suicide.

  18. Anonymous

    How Sad what R they thinking, sure is scary being a Parent.

  19. Anonymous


  20. Brandi, so many people are here for you and I love that you are having the strength to talk about Alex, you are saving lives as you speak and changing the world in a positive way! Love Kate Drouin

  21. Anonymous

    God bless. Keep going & stay positive. Alex is forever loved!

  22. Anonymous

    I am so sorry for the loss of your son. Thank you for making me aware of this “game”. I will be talking to my son about this today! Praying for you and your family.

  23. Lorraine

    Dear Brandi,
    I am a 61 yera old mother and grandmother. Your heartfelt story of losing your son to this tragic game is so brave of you. I cannot imagine your pain. Thank you for your courage to share. I will definately share and pass it on. My prayers will be with you and your family.lo

  24. Brandi, I’m sorry for the loss of Alex. Thank you for sharing your story. I have an 11 yr. old and I have never heard of this. I can’t imagine your pain. Thank you for wanting to help other parents be aware of the new things that these children are trying. God bless you and your family.

  25. Anonymous

    I’m sorry for your loss and applaud your bravery to speak out. Lifetime is currently filming a movie about this.

  26. anonymous

    Brandi, I live in Burlington and my daughter was a friend of your son’s and I remember the day she came home and told me about this and how sorry I felt for your family, but seeing how common this is, is very frightening with peer pressure and pressure in general for our teens these days. My heart goes out to you, stay strong and thank you for sharing your story I know how hard it must have been, but look how many parents you have thought about this horrible game. God Bless you and your family.

  27. Marisa Irizarry

    My heart goes out to you. How brave of you to share your story . I cry with you as well!!!! I lost my Jess over 7 yrs ago at the age of 16 from a Mva. Life has been forever altered. God bless. Take it one day at a time…..

  28. Sandi Heigelmann

    I give Brandi alot of credit for opening up and sharing her story regarding her son Alex and the ” Choking Game.” I am also in awe of her, for her to share her story over & over again must be painfully difficult. She has helped many parents & most importantly, the kids who have or who were playing that game to stop playing & have made them aware of the possible consequences. God Bless her & her family.

  29. Brandi, I used to live in Lake Garda in Burlington. I am so sorry that you lost your son this way. I remember when this hit the news and 2 of my FB friends did share from Bristol CT. Your doing the right thing by talking about this. A Shout Out that needs to be addressed everywhere. God has given you the strength to do this to warn other parents to talk to their children. Communication is everything today.

  30. Anonymous

    Oh my, I have an 11 year old son and I’ve seen a mark on his neck too. Now thanks to your bravery I will be speaking to him. So sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your story….

  31. Anonymous

    I am so sorry for your loss. My kids are 13 and 14 so I will definitely be talking to them about this “game”. I cannot imagine loosing either one of my boys to this horrific “game”. Thank you so much for sharing your and your son’s story. It was quite an eye opener for me!

  32. Anonymous

    Thank you to Brandi for sharing your story. I am sure this story will save lives. So sorry for your loss. No one should bury a child.

  33. Anonymous

    I am truly sorry for your loss. And I can’t even imagine the pain you and your family have been through. I only hope and wish for the best for you and your family.

  34. Anonymous

    I am so sorry. I can’t imagine the pain of losing a child. I will keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.

  35. Anonymous

    Do too peer pressure and felt I need to do this to fit in, I almosr died when I was a teenager to this game. I was sooo ashamed, and embarrassed. I am lucky that I am here today. So sad. So sorry for your loss.

  36. Linda Lubrico

    Brandi thank you for speaking about this game and your sweet Alex I hope this can enlighten all parents who have children in the age group of 9-21. Please parents talk to your children. Brandi thank you for being strong and able to share your story.

  37. Brandi I am sorry very sorry for your loss of Alex and for sharing your story with everyone and May God bless you and your family and hope everyone talk to there children about this because really its not a game or something parents don’t want too walk in their sons or daughter room and see something like that . My Heart and my prayers and my thoughts are with you and the family and if there is anything I can do to help people talk to there children I am here for you Love always and forever.

  38. Anonymous

    I am so sorry for your loss Brandi. Thanks for sharing your story. I have a 14 year old who is a good kid too. I will talk to her about this. Hopefully your story will save others.

  39. Brandi Byrne (Alex's mom)

    Thank you all for your kind words. I am happy to know that Alex’s story will help save others, as Christine said below, she also lost her son to this act and in hindsight saw signs. If we only knew. (I am so sorry or your loss Christine) It’s a bittersweet day today as I’m missing Alex on the 5th month of being without him, but knowing how many people he is going to save fills my heart with love and hope. I love and miss you my sweet boy <3

  40. Anonymous

    I could not imagine losing one of my children. My heart goes out to you and your family. thanjyou for sharing this info n signs about this game.

  41. OMG! You poor sweet mama! — I am not a parent, but I spent 25 years of my life working with the awe and wonder of the young human spirit! — The young ones are so awesome! — I cannot figure out for the life of my 63 years what’s going on, why so many people (mostly children) and a lot of adults want to get “HIGH” and seem to experience some kind of altered state of consciousness so terribly bad. I don’t know what we are doing in this world bad/good/wrong what ever the case may be, this world just seems to be creating an awful lot of unhappy and or confused people! — Very, very sad! I hope you heal, and thank you for your helpful/wonderful story! — I posted this on my own personal facebook page I hope people will read what I wrote and read your wonderful, however sad story! :) — God bless hang in there! :)
    This is what I wrote on my facebook page ahead of your story!
    This is a very sad story, it is very well written by a very sorrowed mom! I have heard of the “CHOKING GAME” (pretty damn stupid, if you ask me) on a few television shows, like the Today Show and The View however with this particular moms description, it seems a lot more common than one could/would possibly realize! — This is an important “PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT” that really should not be ignored!

  42. Anonymous

    I’m so sorry for your loss of such a handsome son.

  43. Kathy iovine

    Brandi so sorry for your loss. Thoughts and prayers are with you. I am going to repost this so it can keep going. Hopefully it’ll reach many people. Thank you for sharing.

  44. Very powerful and important. So brave to share your story Brandi. I have forwarded this to the American Counseling Association in hopes that they will reprint this for an international audience of professionals.

  45. Anonymous

    Thank you Brandi for sharing this sad story of your beloved son Alex. My heart goes out to you and your family. This is the first time I have ever heard of this “Choking Game”, and I am going to post it on my wall to let other parents know how dangerous this game is. May your beautiful son rest in peace. God Bless you.

  46. Anonymous

    Thank you for sharing this. I’m sure you’ve opened the eyes of all who have read this. May God wrap his loving arms around you and your family today and always. Rest in Peace Alex.

  47. Christine Hageman

    Brandi, I just wanted to say thank you for speaking up. I also lost my beautiful 14 year old son, Brody to the Choking Game on April 4, 2012. He left behind 5 siblings from my house and 2 more from his dads house. I too found marks on his neck and the numerous headaches and behavior changes. I thought maybe his ADHD medication dosage needed to be changed since he was growing. I made an eye doctor appointment because of the headaches. He was an active young man and so full of life. Hindsight sucks. My heart goes out to you.

  48. Anonymous

    Wow. I never heard of this. Thank you for enlightening me. I am so sorry for what must be a hole in your heart.

  49. Anonymous

    Thank you for sharing your story. As hard as it probably was, please know you have saved lives today. So many will be talking to their kids about this because of you. God bless!

  50. Anonymous

    Great job Brandi. Every parent should read this and become aware of the “signs”. If this article can save lives then your actions, in Alex’s name/memory have worked.

  51. Cindy Console

    Brandi, I am so sorry for Alexs’ passing. You remain in my thoughts and prayers everyday and always. Alex was a handsome young man with so much life ahead of him. May he rest in peace.