Substance Abuse In A Can – Inhalants

First-time substance users generally don’t find their drugs on the street.  They find it in their home among everyday items used by the family.  Do you have aerosol cans, cleaning fluids, and removers scatters around your house?  These are inhalants, a “gateway” drug easily accessible by young teens.

Inhalants are products that produce breathable chemical vapors that cause mind-altering affects, similar to alcohol.  Because inhalants are breathed, they quickly enter the user’s blood system, causing an almost immediate affect.  According to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 729,000 young people, ages 12 and up, used some type of inhalant to get high during the past 12 month period.  70% of these first-time users were under 18.  In fact, according to The Alliance for Consumer Education (ACE), 1 in 5 children will abuse inhalants by the 8th grade.  8th grade students show the highest level of inhalant abuse, with a higher percentage being female.

Why do young people use inhalants?  It’s easy – they can find them anywhere around their own home or garage.  They are also cheap.  Common types of inhalant products include but are not limited to:

  • Spray paint
  • Nail polish remover
  • Hair spray
  • Cleaning fluids
  • Lighter fluid
  • Gasoline
  • Paint thinner
  • Felt-tipped markers
  • Glue

How are these everyday products used to get high?  The inhalant user may sniff or snort the fumes directly from the container.  They may also spray the product directly into their nose or mouth.  Other ways fumes are introduced include “bagging”, where the vapor is sprayed directly into a plastic or paper bag, then placed over the nose and mouth to breathe the fumes; and “huffing”.  Huffing occurs when a rag or clothing is soaked with the product, then it is held over the nose and mouth or even stuffed into the mouth.

How can parents recognize the signs and symptoms of inhalant use?  We would first like to recommend prevention, and this is a good month to get started, National Poison Prevention Month.  Lock up or protect any products that could potentially be abused.  Keep an inventory of items and pay attention to how quickly products are used up.  Then look for these common signs and symptoms:

  • Intoxication similar to someone that has used alcohol
    • A drunken appearance
    • Slurred speech
    • Muscle weakness
    • Impairment
    • Hallucinations/Delusions
    • Confusion
    • A chemical odor on a person’s breath or clothing
    • Stains on a person’s face, hands and clothes
    • Hidden empty spray containers or rags that reek of fumes

Inhalant abuse is not something to be taken lightly.  The products used are toxic and hazardous.  Improper use of inhalants can cause damage to the brain and nervous system; organ damage; convulsions and seizures; choking caused from inhaled vomit; secondary injuries from accidents; and even death.

To learn more about inhalant abuse and how to talk to your teen, visit The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s website on inhalants for more information.


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