Inhaling chemicals to get high is not new; Americans have sniffed glue as far back as the late 1890’s. What IS new is the amount and variety of inhalants and solvents that are now abused. Especially frightening is the fact that this behavior is most common among adolescents – often those in junior high – ranging anywhere from age 11-15.
It cannot be emphasized enough just how dangerous these practices are; one episode of inhaling toxic chemicals can lead to death (called SSF or sudden sniffing death) and often does.
What further complicates the issue is children this young are often unable to correctly assess dangerous activities; the younger they are, the more invincible they may feel. Parents must talk candidly with their young children about these dangers; not doing so may be putting your child’s life at risk.
One reason these activities are typically found in the younger set is that these substances are usually readily available (household or garage staples) or can be purchased cheaply and legally.
Types of inhalants and solvents used include (but are not limited to): gasoline, glue, correction fluid, antifreeze, paint thinners, nail polish removers, aerosols of many varieties – including cooking sprays and household cleaners.
It may surprise many adults to learn there are many methods used to get the toxins into the system. Some of the ways include: “Huffing” – Cloth is soaked with chemicals and placed directly over the mouth to be inhaled. Aerosols are sometimes sprayed directly into the mouth. Glue, correction fluid, nail polish remover, and other liquids are often sniffed straight from the container. “Bagging” – Gas or vapors are inhaled from bags or balloons. Some substances are heated, then inhaled and others are injected.
Inhalants/solvents cause damage to the central nervous system
Inhaled substances get into the bloodstream very rapidly – from there, they travel quickly and directly to the brain. Once in the nervous system, they act immediately to depress the function of the entire system.
Long-term use can result in devastating and irreversible neurological damage
Users are known to experience excitement, dizziness, detachment from reality, and euphoria. Severe intoxication (which can happen the first, fifth, fifteenth, or fiftieth-time inhalants/ solvents are abused) can result in convulsions, coma, and death.
Other serious effects:
- Permanent brain damage
- Personality changes, including wild swings in mood
- Incoherent (or slurred) speech
- Aggressive, violent behavior
- Lack of muscle control that results in twitching and uncontrollable movements
- Bizarre behavior
As with most drug/chemical use, stopping inhalant use will result in withdrawal symptoms. Because an individual may have used many different chemicals, it is impossible to predict specific withdrawal symptoms. Persistent use may have caused physical and mental damage, so it might be best to consult a physician regarding withdrawal.
At the first sign of danger (slowed or stopped breathing, convulsions, etc.) dial 911 or take the person to the nearest emergency room – get help immediately.
How can you tell if someone you know is using inhalants or solvents?
In most cases, warning signs will be present.
What to look for:
- Breath and/or clothes smell like inhalants/solvents/chemicals
- Disorientation, incoherent speech, trouble moving
- Rash near or around nasal or mouth areas, sometimes accompanied by runny nose
- Personality changes; especially exhibiting increased recklessness
- Loss of interest in usual activities
- Lying, evasiveness, refusal to reveal whereabouts
- Gathering paraphernalia – paper bags, sprays, lighter fluid, gasoline, etc.