A Parent's Guide to Inhalant Abuse
Inhalants are chemical vapors that
alter the mind when breathed in. These extremely poisonous chemicals can cause death by
triggering a rapid, irregular heartbeat. This is called sudden sniffing death syndrome.
They can also cause death by suffocation. And inhalants can cause lifelong (permanent)
damage to the brain, liver, and kidneys. They can cause hearing loss, too.
More than 1,000 household products can harm the body when inhaled. Most act on the central nervous system. The National Institute on Drug Abuse organizes inhalants in these general areas:
Volatile solvents. These change to vapor at room temperature. They include
paint thinners and removers, dry-cleaning fluids, degreasers, gasoline, glues,
correction fluids, and felt-tip marker fluids.
Aerosols. These are sprays that contain propellants and solvents. They
include spray paints, deodorant and hair sprays, vegetable oil sprays for cooking,
and fabric protector sprays.
Gases. These are gases used in household or commercial products. But they
also include medical anesthesia products such as ether, chloroform, halothane, and
nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide can be found in whipped cream dispensers and products
that raise octane levels in racing cars. Household or commercial products that
have gases include butane lighters, propane tanks, whipped cream dispensers, and
Nitrites. These substances open the blood vessels and relax the muscles.
Instead of changing a mood like the other categories of inhalants, nitrites
enhance sex. Nitrites include cyclohexyl nitrite, isoamyl (amyl) nitrite, and
isobutyl (butyl) nitrite. They are often called poppers or snappers. The Consumer
Product Safety Commission has banned the sale of nitrites for human use. But these
products can still be found. They are sold in small bottles with labels such as
video head cleaner, room deodorizer, and liquid aroma.
Inhalants can be breathed in through the nose or the mouth in different ways:
Sniffing. Sniffing or snorting fumes from containers.
Spraying. Spraying aerosol containers directly into the nose or mouth.
Bagging. Sniffing or inhaling fumes from substances sprayed or placed
inside a plastic or paper bag.
Huffing. Holding a rag soaked with inhalant up to the face or stuffing it
in the mouth.
Inhaling. Breathing in vapors, such as from balloons filled with nitrous
When enough inhalant is breathed in
through the nose or mouth, it can cause intoxicating effects. At first users may feel
slightly stimulated. After breathing in more of the substance, they feel less inhibited
and less in control.
Sniffing highly concentrated amounts of the chemicals in solvents or aerosol sprays can cause heart irregularities and death. High concentrations of inhalants also can cause death from suffocation. This happens because inhaling concentrated chemicals prevents you from breathing in any oxygen. If the lungs and brain are without oxygen for a long enough time, you will suffocate and die. This can happen with huffing and bagging.
Death from inhalants can result
from a very high concentration of fumes.
Deliberately inhaling a substance
from inside a paper or plastic bag or in an enclosed area greatly increases the chances
of suffocation. A long session of inhalant abuse can cause irregular and rapid
heartbeats. This is called sudden sniffing death syndrome. A healthy young person can
die from one single sniffing session. This is particularly true for the inhalants
butane, propane, and aerosol chemicals.
Death also can be caused by:
Stay calm if you catch your child
abusing inhalants. Immediately remove or push the can, bag, or rag away. Then stay with
a conscious child in an airy room. If your child is unconscious or not breathing, call
and start CPR if trained
to do so.
Seek professional help from a
counselor or healthcare provider once your child has recovered.
Inhaling nitrites or poppers can sometimes
cause a deadly blood disorder (methemoglobenemia). The blood becomes physically changed
so that it can't deliver oxygen to the body. The person's skin may look slightly blue or
pale. Or the skin may actually turn blue and purple from lack of oxygen. The person's
blood may seem chocolate in color. Using an oxygen face mask won't improve their
condition. This is a medical emergency and requires an antidote medicine. Call right away.
Signs of abuse
These are signs of possible inhalant abuse:
Red or runny eyes or nose
Stains on the body or clothing
Sores or spots around the mouth or nose
Chemical odor or some other
abnormal odor on skin or clothes
Drunk, dazed, or dizzy appearance
Nausea and loss of appetite
Anxiety, excitability, or
Empty spray paint or solvent containers, especially if they have been hidden
Preventing inhalant abuse starts
with education and awareness. If you think your child uses inhalants, openly talk about
it with him or her. Also stress that they are deadly, poisonous chemicals. If abuse is
occurring, get professional help for your child. If your child refuses to get treatment,
seek help for yourself so you can be prepared to manage the situation.