What Parents Need to Know About the Dangers of Huffing

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According to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World, 1 out of every 5 adolescents in America will have used inhalants by the time they reach the eighth grade. Yet, despite the fact that inhalants are the most-frequently-abused substance by adolescents and young teenagers (ages 12 and 13), most parents are woefully ignorant about the practice of “huffing”.

What is “Huffing” and What Are Some of the Inhalants That Teenagers Use?

“Huffing” or “sniffing” is the deliberate inhalation of the vapors or fumes from various household products in order to get a quick and powerful high.  It is so popular among young teenagers because there are over 1000 different products commonly found around the home that they can use, including:

  • Gasoline
  • Model glue
  • Shoe polish
  • Spray paint
  • Paint thinner
  • Correction fluid
  • Rubber cement
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Butane – lighter fluid – is the most-commonly-abused inhalant in the United States

Statistics about Inhalant Abuse in the United States

Inhalant abuse is much more widespread than you otherwise might think. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, inhalants are the only class of intoxicating substance that are abused more by younger teens than by older ones. Other startling statistics about inhalants include:

  • More than 1 MILLION American children ages 12-17 have used inhalants within the past year.
  • 59% of children within that age demographic now at least one friend who uses inhalants.
  • Almost 23 MILLION US citizens will experiment with inhalants during their lifetime.
  • During any given year, almost 70% of people who use inhalants are first-time users.
  • Huffing/sniffing can start as early as age 10.
  • Huffing is the only form of substance abuse that is routinely tried FIRST by children.
  • 58% of inhalant abusers will have initiated use before the end of the ninth grade.
  • The highest rates of inhalant use – current, past-year, and lifetime – are among eighth-graders.
  • Eighth grade girls are more likely to try inhalants and eighth-grade boys (8.6% versus 5.5%).
  • Approximately 33% of youths in the criminal justice system are regular inhalant abusers.
  • Up to 40% of treatment admissions for inhalant abuse are for people between the ages of 12 and 17.
  • This is the highest rate of any drug within that age demographic.

What Are the Dangers of Inhalant Abuse?

The chemicals found within most substances used by inhalant abusers are all extremely toxic. The use of inhalants is extraordinarily dangerous and can cause immediate and irreparable damage to the brain, heart, liver, kidneys, bone marrow, and other organs. Short-term effects of inhalant abuse include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of coordination
  • Delusions/hallucinations
  • Impaired judgment
  • Hostility/aggression
  • Unconsciousness

Long-term effects of inhalant abuse include:

  • Prolonged disorientation
  • Depression/Pronounced apathy
  • Memory problems
  • Cognitive decline/Diminished intelligence
  • Hearing loss
  • Anemia
  • Leukemia
  • Coma

Inhalant abuse can even be fatal:

  • Asphyxiation – when the concentration of fumes/vapors is so high that it replaces oxygen in the lungs
  • Suffocation – particularly when the method of abuse involves putting a plastic bag over one’s head
  • Seizures/convulsions – from abnormal electrical activity within the brain
  • Choking – inhalation of vomit
  • Fatal injuries occurring while intoxicated – accidents, automobile wrecks, falls, etc.

The majority of deaths – 55% – associated with inhalant abuse are due to sudden cardiac arrest, commonly known as Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome. Perhaps the most frightening thing about SSDS is the fact that it can even happen on the first use. 22% of SSDS victims were first-time users.

What Are Some Signs That I Can Look for That Might Mean My Teenager Is Using Inhalants?

On one hand, it can be difficult to know when your teenager begins experimenting with inhalants because the products used are commonly found around the house. There are, however, tell-tale signs that might indicate that your child is abusing inhalants. Changes in physical appearance:

  • Paint stains on clothing or body
  • Chemical smell on the breath
  • Rash/Sores around the nose and mouth
  • Runny nose
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Stained fingernails
  • Glassy eyes
  • Lack of coordination
  • Poor personal hygiene

Behavioral changes:

  • Confusion/Disorientation
  • Slurred speech
  • Forgetfulness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Irritability/Aggression
  • Anxiety/Excitability
  • Uncharacteristically poor grades
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Social withdrawal and isolation

Physical evidence:

  • Rags of clothing soaked in chemicals
  • Chemical residue in plastic bags
  • Empty aerosol cans
  • Substances in odd places – gas cans or spray paint in the bedroom, computer cleaner in their backpack, etc.
  • Missing money

What Do I Do If I Suspect That My Teenager Using Inhalants?

The abuse of inhalants is an extremely dangerous practice, so if you have a suspicion that your adolescent or teenager may be using chemical inhalants, then you have to act quickly – it is LITERALLY a matter of life and death. As with other forms of substance abuse, huffing can be addictive – over time, your child may have developed a tolerance for the abused inhalant and may even be physically or psychologically dependent upon the inhalant. This means that it is highly unlikely that they will simply be able to just “stop” using. Physical and chemical changes happen within the brain during the development of an addiction, and your child’s ability to choose if, when, or how much they huff will be compromised. They will not be able to resist the compulsion to use again and again, no matter what they promise you. Recovery from inhalant abuse and addiction requires much of the same protocols involved in recovery from any other substance abuse disorder, such as counseling, group therapy, education, support groups, 12-step programs, relapse prevention, and ongoing support. For this reason, it is ALWAYS recommended that the services of professional addiction recovery specialists be employed. They have the training and expertise necessary to help your loved one regain sobriety and balance in their life.