The Dangers of Inhalants: Inform Yourself and Talk To Your Children
Inhalants are chemical products that people use to achieve altered states of mind.
Inhalant abuse, also known as huffing or bagging, is highest in the 7th to 9th grade population, although use may start at a much younger age. That is why it is important for parents to discuss with their children – early on – what does and does not belong in the human body.
Brain and Body Damage
Chronic inhalant abuse can lead to permanent loss of brain tissue volume and lasting abnormalities in brain structure. One study revealed that inhaling solvents causes more cognitive impairment than cocaine abuse.
Solvents dissolve lipids (fats), which are a major component of our brain and body. One group of solvent abusers, when tested, showed impairment in problem solving, concentration and memory. After ending the abuse, individuals recovered only two-thirds of the brain function that they had lost.
Other side effects of solvent abuse may include permanent hearing loss, limb spasms and damage to kidneys, liver or bone marrow.
Severe Symptoms and Death
Huffing can cause individuals to experience headaches, nausea and vomiting, but the most dangerous effects of inhaling are asphyxiation and sudden sniffing death syndrome.
Asphyxiation occurs when oxygen in the lungs is displaced by the chemicals inhaled, leading to convulsions, coma or loss of life. Sudden sniffing death syndrome refers to death caused by chemically triggered irregular heart rhythms.
Many individuals who die from inhalants are first-time users who likely had a biological vulnerability to the inhaled substance or underestimated the powerful effects of the inhalant.
What Parents Should Watch For
Inhalant abuse is not readily apparent. A child or adolescent can sneak away to the basement or garage for 10 or 15 minutes, sniff gasoline or another substance and quickly recover. What parents can watch for are chemical odors on a child’s body, breath or clothing, or paint stains on the body or clothing. Red eyes and a runny nose are signs of bagging and huffing, as are drippy whipped cream cans found in the trash bin.
Common inhalants are:
- Volatile solvents such as shoe polish, paint, paint thinner, glue and gasoline.
- Office supplies such as felt tip markers, correcting fluid and computer dust-off sprays.
- Butane, propane and nitrous oxide gases. Butane is found in hairsprays, air fresheners, spray deodorants and spray paints. Food-service grade nitrous oxide is what propels foods like whipped cream out of a can. By pressing the nozzle while the can remains upright, it is easy to release the nitrous oxide gas and inhale it.
Inhalant intoxication initially mimics drunkenness. There is usually a brief euphoric period with dizziness and silly behavior. That is followed by some loss of coordination and drowsiness; individuals may slur their speech, fall down and become lethargic. Agitation, confusion and loss of consciousness may occur.
Tip for Talking to Your Kids
It is not helpful to use the phrase “getting high” when talking to children about inhalants since those words can stimulate a young person’s curiosity. It is more effective to refer to inhalants as toxins or poisons because that is their effect on our body.