Inhalants and Teens


I was struck by a study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) that says more than 2 million adolescents over the age of 12 used inhalants in 2009. Approximately 8.1% of these youth were in eighth grade, 5.7% were in the tenth grade, and were 3.6% in the twelfth grade.

Inhalants are volatile substances that produce chemical vapors that can be inhaled to induce a psychoactive reaction or alter the mind. A wide range of chemicals found in hundreds of different products may have different pharmacological effects. The classification of inhalants can be challenging; however, some experts list four general categories: volatile solvents, aerosols, gases, and nitrites.

Inhalants, particularly volatile solvents and gases and aerosols, are often among the first drugs used by younger children. Abusing inhalants can become chronic and extend into adulthood. It is important for parents to know that most inhalants young people use are found in paint removers, dry cleaning fluids, grease remover, glue, gasoline, spray deodorant, hair spray, and correction fluid.

Many young people seek to use inhalants because they produce a rapid high that resembles alcohol intoxication with initial excitation, then drowsiness, disinhibition , lightheadedness, and agitation. If sufficient amounts are inhaled, nearly all solvents and gases produce anesthesia, a loss of sensation and may lead to an unconscious state.

The consequences can be devastating. Prolonged inhalation of these chemicals can cause heart failure or death within minutes. The abuse of these inhalants also causes death by asphyxiation, suffocation, choking (the inhalation of vomit after inhalant use), or fatal trauma (accidents, including deaths from traffic accidents due to intoxication).

Inhalants can be breathed nasally or orally. These are some of the methods used by adolescents:

• Sucking or snorting (inhaling) the vapors from the containers;

• Spraying aerosols directly into the nose or mouth;

• Bagging, sucking, or inhaling fumes from substances that have been sprayed or deposited inside a plastic or paper bag; and

• Huffing from a cloth filled with the inhaler and inserted into the mouth.

Abusing inhalants during pregnancy is extremely dangerous to the unborn child. It is never too early to talk to your children about the dangers of inhalants. Seek help if you believe your child is abusing inhalants or any other chemical.

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