One day, you go into your son’s room and to your surprise, you find that missing can of whipped cream under his bed. You think to yourself, “That’s odd.”
Out of your daughter’s backpack falls the can of paint thinner you used three years ago when you remodeled the kitchen and has since been sitting out in the garage among the other discarded tools and supplies. You then ponder, “Is she in art class this semester?”
If something like this has happened to you, your kid may very well be abusing inhalants. If he is, he’s in danger of not only destroying his mind and body but he could also die.
What are inhalants?
Inhalants that kids get high on are mostly found in your house. For example, if you have cleaning fluids, glues, paints, solvents, compressed air canisters (you know, those cans of air you use to clean your computer keyboard), correctional fluids, deodorizers, aerosol deodorants, cooking spray, or whipped cream cans, then you have inhalants in your house. . . and I’m betting that you do.
All these types of products are very common in any household. After all, we all use these goods to aid us in cooking, cleaning, school projects, home repair, etc. The problem is these are the very same products your teen may be using to get high. In many surveys I have seen, roughly 4 out of 10 middle-school aged youth have tried huffing (one of the many slang terms for inhaling toxic fumes to get high).
Inhalants offer a quick, cheap and intense high for roughly five to forty-five minutes. They are easy to get a hold of, conceal and explain away if caught.
So what? At least my kid isn’t doing drugs.
If that’s what you think, you could be dead wrong. Inhalants can often be far worse than more commonly used illicit drugs. These products were never manufactured to be ingested. In fact all of these products carry warnings on their labels about the ill effects they can produce if inhaled, swallowed, and sometimes even touched.
The often overlooked fact is that inhalants are not drugs; they are poisons, pure and simple. Unfortunately, many teens don’t see them as poisons or even as drugs. They don’t understand the severe and irreparable damage they can cause not only to their brains, but also to their central nervous systems. And let’s not forget about serious and permanent damage done to their bones and internal organs as well. Chronic use can change your adolescent’s personality forever and cause mental retardation. Basically, these fumes destroy cells that will never recover in the brain, bones, muscle tissues, and internal organs.
I’m not trying to be an alarmist, but in America alone roughly 125 youth die each year from huffing. Approximately 40% of these individuals died the very first time they tried it. Death can come from suffocation, drowning in their own vomit, or heart attack. Not fun.
Wow, this is pretty scary. How do I know if my son or daughter is huffing?
Before you empty all your cupboards of cleaning supplies, keep an eye out for odd items in your teenager’s possession. Common inhalant paraphernalia include:
• Household products that disappear, are used up too quickly or are hidden in stashes
• These are some items that are commonly used to inhale the product:
o plastic or paper bags
o rags or handkerchiefs
o bottles or soda cans
o toilet paper tubes filled with tissues
o balloons (nitrous oxide)
o whippet bullets for whipped cream (nitrous oxide)
Here are some symptoms of huffing:
• chemical odors on breath or clothing
• paint or other stains on face, hands, or clothing
• facial rash, blisters or sores around the nose, mouth, throat, or lips
• frostbite around the nose or mouth (nitrous oxide)
• a painful tongue
• irritated or glazed eyes, dilated pupils
• frequent unexplained coughing or nose bleeds
• weight loss
This article is not meant to cause an anxiety attack. Perhaps you suspect huffing, but you’re just not sure. After all, maybe your son decided to surprise you by cleaning the whole house, which explains where all the wood polish went. It’s not likely, I know, but a parent can dream.
If my teen is huffing, what should I do?
If you catch your teen in the act, stay calm. If you rile her up with a bunch of yelling and panicking, it is possible that in her vulnerable state, you could drive her to cardiac arrest. You don’t want that and neither does she. Calmly get her outside into fresh air and follow the warning directions on the product. As soon as possible, get her to an emergency room or doctor to ensure that she is out of immediate danger.
There is some debate on whether teens should be educated about inhalants since it might lead them to try them. Well, as most of you who know me are probably guessing, I am on the side of education and disclosure. Your teen needs to know the truth about these dangers; because inevitably he will be faced with the choice to huff or not to huff. If he has accurate information (from a source more reliable than his friend who just stuck her head in plastic bag filled with paint fumes), your teen will generally make smarter decisions. The belief that “If we don’t bring it up, they won’t know what they’re missing,” will only lead to misinformation, a barrier in communication, and ultimately a teenager encountering a situation he or she is unprepared to handle.
Remember that adolescence is a temporary phase and will pass within a few years.
© Copyright 2007 by Kent Toussaint. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.