Parents tend to be concerned, with good reason, about illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin and alcohol (the most abused drug in the US). However most of them, when asked, indicate that they have never considered the broad variety of perfectly legal substances containing volatile solvents or aerosols — many of them found in almost every household — that can be used to get high by inhalation — known to kids as huffing.
Nor are parents, and consequently their kids, aware that even single or occasional use can be extremely dangerous. Surveys commissioned by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) indicate that more than 22 million Americans have used inhalants at least once in their lives, including nearly 16% of eighth-grade students. Most kids start out of curiosity, and try inhalants because these items are readily obtainable without drug connections that are more available to older adolescents and adults.
Common products that can be used to get high include:
- nail polish remover
- lighter fluid
- spray paints
- deodorant and hair sprays
- whipped cream canisters
- cleaning fluids
- paint thinners
and these just scratch the surface. There are hundreds of other products, some sold expressly for the purpose, that can be legally purchased by anyone.
Inhalants can cause heart irregularities and death from cardiac arrest, or by suffocation. Deaths on first use are not uncommon. Chronic use of inhalants can result in damage to the lungs, heart, kidneys, liver and especially the brain, which is still growing and forming neural connections in teens, and is thus extremely susceptible to damage.
Parents should look for the same sorts of symptoms they would consider worrisome in relation to alcohol or other drugs, especially changes in personality and signs of intoxication, along with discarded aerosol cans, unusual stains on clothing, and respiratory problems. More importantly, perhaps, they should discuss these matters with their kids, who will likely not be hearing the cold hard facts from their peers, nor browsing the Sunrise Detox website. Girls are as likely to abuse inhalants as boys, if not more so at certain ages, so parents should not assume their young ladies are safe.
If it looks as though something may be amiss, the young person should receive a medical exam at minimum. Further treatment is strongly indicated. While inhalants are not addictive in the usual sense, users report that the high is so sudden, and so intense, that they just want to keep coming back for more. Additionally, there will be underlying reasons for their using that should be examined by professionals so that the patient can work through them and reduce his or her desire to shut out reality.
See the NIDA site for further information.