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Inhalants: What You Need to Know

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Young people today can face strong peer pressure to try drugs, including a group of substances called inhalants. Inhalant abuse is particularly a problem with younger teens, but even children as young as 5 or 6 years may try inhalants.

Inhalants have the special risk of being deadly any time they are used—even the first time.

As a parent, you are your child's first and best protection against drug use. The following is information from the American Academy of Pediatrics about inhalants and how to prevent their use, especially since this form of substance abuse is difficult to treat. (Child refers to child or teen in this publication.)

Types of inhalants

More than 1,000 products typically found around the house can be misused as inhalants to get high. Because these products are commonly found in homes, offices, and classrooms, they are legal, cheap, easy to get, and easy to hide. Nearly 1 in 10 eighth graders have tried inhalants.

There are 3 general types of inhalants: solvents and fuels, nitrous oxide, and volatile nitrites.

How inhalants are used

Inhalant abuse is also called solvent abuse, huffing, sniffing, glue sniffing, or volatile substance abuse.

Users will

Signs of inhalant abuse

Parents and teachers should be aware of signs of inhalant abuse, but some signs are very general, such as worsening appearance, grades, or attitude. Usual activities and friends tend to change.

Other warning signs might include the following:

How inhalant use affects health

One thing that all inhalants have in common is that they contain chemicals that were never meant for people to inhale. The scariest thing about inhalants is that even the first use can result in death. The heart is particularly sensitive to inhalant effects, leading to abnormal heart rhythms and sudden death. Inhalant use can cause permanent damage to the brain.

The high from inhalants happens fast and usually lasts only a few seconds to minutes, unless the user inhales repeatedly. At first, inhalant users feel stimulated, but very soon they begin to feel dizzy and may slur their speech and stumble. Sometimes users think they see things that are not there.

Short-term effects include

Long-term effects from brain and nerve damage include

Adolescents who use inhalants to get high are at very high risk of trying other drugs.

What you can do

Take these steps to help prevent your child from becoming interested in using inhalants or other drugs.