Inhalant drugs may seem safer than traditional street drugs like heroin or cocaine, but they are just as dangerous. Not only can inhalant abuse result in addiction, but it can also cause serious long-term health consequences and sometimes even death.
Dangers of Inhalants
As a parent, you may wonder why inhalants are so dangerous. After all, you may use some of these substances on a daily basis. But much like prescription drug abuse, the ubiquity of inhalants in the average American home can lead to greater misuse of the products.
Your teen can become addicted to inhalants with repeated use. Though these substances are not as physically addictive as in cases of opioid addiction, they can be just as emotionally addictive.
Devastating as addiction is, it is not even the worst possible outcome. Inhalant abuse can cause death by Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome (SSDS), which can occur after just a single use. Marked by heart failure caused by unusual cardiac activity directly after abusing an inhalant, SSDS is prompted by rigorous activity or surprise. For example, a teen may be caught by their parents just after using an inhalant and experience shock that causes a rapid increase in heart rate. The teen may then collapse and die.
Most Dangerous Inhalant Abuse Side Effects
- Permanent brain damage
- Permanent loss of coordination
- Organ damage to liver and kidneys
- Hearing loss
- Bone marrow loss
What Is an Inhalant Drug?
Inhalants look like any other household substance but can cause mind-altering (or “psychoactive”) effects.
Some examples of inhalants include:
- Vegetable oil spray
- Nail polish
- Spray paint
- Cleaning fluids
- Electronic contact cleaner
- Spray aerosols (deodorant, hairspray, computer duster spray)
- Nitrous oxide or “whippets”
- Shoe polish
- Lighter fluid
In kids ages 12–15, the most commonly used inhalants are found around the house. For example, spray paint, glue, shoe polish, lighter fluid, and gasoline. On the other hand, users ages 16–17 usually turn to nitrous oxide.
Who Uses Inhalants, and Why?
The majority of inhalant users are children and young teens, possibly because older kids have easier access to street drugs and alcohol. The 2015 Monitoring the Future study found that about 9.4% of 8th graders have abused inhalants, as opposed to 7.2% of 10th graders and 5.7% of 12th graders.
Adolescents use inhalants for the same reasons behind teen drinking and teen drug use: to escape emotional pain, to fit in with their peers, or to have fun.
How Do Teens Abuse Inhalants?
Teens hold the inhalant near their mouth and nose, then repeatedly take deep breaths until they receive a “high” from the drug. This activity is called huffing. They engage in huffing in a variety of ways. For example, they may fill a balloon with an inhalant to preserve as much of the gas as possible or hold an inhalant-soaked cloth in their mouth.
Since inhalants offer a very brief high — sometimes only lasting a few seconds — teens often huff over and over again during each inhalant abuse session.
Short-term effects of inhalants include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of inhibition
- Short-lived euphoria
- Hallucinations and delusions
Signs of Inhalant Abuse
If you believe your teen may be using inhalants, signs and symptoms may include:
- Mood swings
- Personality changes
- Slurred speech
- Lack of coordination
- Unusual, brief bouts of euphoria
- Inability to stop abusing drugs
Does Your Teen Need Inhalant Abuse Treatment?
If your teen has a huffing addiction, you should immediately seek treatment for inhalant abuse. Addiction is not a choice — your teen may not know how to stop using inhalants. In this situation, treatment is often the only way back to wellness. Too many times, families do not want to believe that their child’s problem is severe enough to merit rehab and has delayed seeking help.
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