Inhalant Abuse: Nothing to Sniff At
Know what to look for and learn how to talk with your kids
Inhalant abuse first occurred in the 1950s when young people in search of a cheap high would sniff noxious glue fumes. Today, more young people than ever abuse inhalants – and not just glue. Seventeen percent of American youths admit to sniffing nail polish remover, snorting nitrous oxide, huffing butane or abusing some other inhalant at least once.
And once is all it takes. Sudden sniffing death, which occurs when fumes replace oxygen in the body and suffocate the victim, can kill a person the first, fifth or 100th time he or she uses an inhalant. Even if they don’t kill, inhalants change brain chemistry and may permanently damage the central nervous system. They can also cause hepatitis, liver failure, muscle weakness, aplastic anemia and cardiac arrest.
The Trouble with Sniffing
For many young people, the low cost and availability seem to outweigh the risks of inhalant abuse. Children can find correction fluid or nail polish remover at home or school. They can hide paint thinner or butane under a bed or in a drawer, and they can buy rubber cement without breaking the law.
Inhalant abuse seems to appeal to very young individuals, sometimes starting as early as elementary school and diminishing as they become older. The problem is growing: national surveys report that inhaling volatile solvents has become as popular with our nation’s youth as smoking marijuana.
What to Look For
Adults may dismiss sniffing as youthful experimentation, but inhalants are often a gateway to further substance abuse. Recognizing the signs of inhalant abuse may help save a child’s life. The following are some signs to watch for:
Problems in school
Paint or stains on body or clothing
Spots or sores around the mouth
Red or runny nose or eyes
Chemical odor on breath
Drunk, dazed or dizzy appearance
Nausea, loss of appetite
Excitability, anxiety, irritability
How to Talk with Your Kids
Teach your children how to deal with peer pressure and say no. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America insists it’s never too early to talk to your children, and suggests using these guidelines:
Listen carefully. When you listen attentively, children feel more comfortable talking to you about their feelings and concerns.
Teach them to act independently. If your child refuses to participate in a family activity, don’t force him or her to play along and don’t insist that the rest of the family skip the activity. Let your child know it’s okay to stand on his or her own.
Promote choice. Allow children to make their own decisions, whether it’s selecting an outfit for the day or joining a school activity. With practice, they’ll become skilled in making all kinds of good decisions.
Heading Off a Problem
Inhalant abuse is not new. American youths have used common household products to get high for 50 years. But with toxic products readily available and their use on the rise, it’s more important than ever to heed the warnings and learn the facts.