Inhalants are ordinary, readily available products that can be used as drugs when the contents or chemicals in the substance are inhaled. It’s a common way for teens to get high without having to acquire alcohol or illegal substances. Inhalants are legal, everyday products, such as spray paint and hairspray, that can produce harmful chemical vapors.
The recreational use of inhalants is a growing problem for teens. It is important to bring awareness to the harms that can result from inhalant use and to recognize ways that parents can prevent inhalant use for their teens.
Understanding Inhalants as Drugs
Chemicals in household products can produce toxic vapors that, when inhaled, can produce short-lived intoxication. Like illegal substances, prolonged use of these drugs can have significant effects on the nervous system and brain activity. In teenagers, using inhalants can cause lightheadedness, slowed reflexes and reaction times, loss of coordination, and distorted or slurred speech. In some cases, teens can hallucinate or black out while under the influence, similar to the effects of alcohol use.
Inhalants are dangerous for anyone, especially for teenagers, as their brains are not yet fully developed. Damage sustained from inhalant use can sometimes be reversed, but some effects can last into adulthood. Inhalants can cause long-term damage to the lungs, heart, kidney, and liver. Just because inhalants are common household products does not mean they are safe to use in place of “hard drugs.” They can be just as harmful.
What Are the Main Types of Inhalants?
Not all inhalants are alike. The main types of inhalants include:
- Solvents: This refers to products common in arts and crafts projects or office supplies, such as glue or markers. Other common household solvents include nail polish, nail polish remover, paint thinners, and lighter fluid.
- Aerosols: Aerosols include hair sprays, oil sprays for cooking, spray paints, certain deodorants, and fabric protectors.
- Gases: The most common gas used as an inhalant is nitrous oxide, also known as whippits, which can be found in pressurized cans. Other common gases found at home include refrigerants, propane tanks for grills, and butane lighters.
- Alkyl nitrites: Also referred to as “poppers” or “snappers,” this product is used in leather cleaners, room sprays, and other products that eliminate foul odors.
How Are Inhalants Used?
The three primary methods for using inhalants are
- Huffing: Breathing through a towel or other rag that has been soaked in some substance and is placed directly over the nose and mouth
- Sniffing: Similar to huffing, except it involves directly breathing the substance through the nose from the bottle or can rather than a rag or towel
- Bagging: The substance is inhaled through a bag that has been placed over the nose and mouth
Can Inhalants Be Fatal?
Just because a certain substance is legal and commonly used at home does not make it safe to get high on. In some cases, inhalants can lead to death. Sometimes inhalant-related deaths are called “sudden sniffing death.” This happens when the chemicals stop the heart. It can happen in otherwise healthy people, even those who do not use inhalants intentionally. Death can also happen by suffocation if a person inhales a substance using a bag in an enclosed area.
Why Do Teens Use Inhalants?
There are plenty of reasons why some teens may be inclined to use inhalants over illegal drugs:
- They are easily attainable. It’s not against the law to have cleaning products, oil sprays, glue bottles, etc. These products all have practical uses for cleaning, making crafts, cooking, and more. They also don’t require buyers to be a certain age to obtain them.
- The effects are felt instantly. Other drugs and alcohol take time to feel the effects. However, inhalants can work in less than ten seconds.
- They’re inexpensive or free. Street drugs can be costly, and teens often lack financial independence. Still, they don’t typically use their allowance to buy household products. Instead, their parents do.
- The “high” can be difficult to detect. The high that can result from inhalants happens quickly and fades just as fast. That can make it hard for parents to tell if their kids are using.
What Are Common Warning Signs Of Using Inhalants?
While it may not be obvious at first if your teen has gotten high from inhalants, over time, you may notice the following signs:
- Acting drunk or lightheaded
- Slurred speech
- Loss of coordination, stumbling, and lack of balance
- Red eyes and nosebleeds
- Sores around the mouth, which is commonly called “huffer’s rash”
- Breath smelling like chemicals
- Loss of appetite, nausea
How Can Parents Prevent Teens From Using Inhalants?
To protect your teen, first, understand that drug use can happen to anyone. No parent wants to imagine their child becoming addicted to drugs, but no one is safe from drug use. You may want to ask your teen if they know of anyone in their social group using inhalants. Be sure to let your teen know that using common household products to get high can be just as damaging as illegal drugs and alcohol. Let them know you are available to talk if they need to. Pay attention to who your teen hangs out with and where, especially on weekends and after school. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries to protect your teen.
It can be scary to think that your teen may not be safe in their own home. Clearfork Academy doesn’t just help teens with known substance abuse problems: we are also here to equip parents with facts and knowledge for prevention. You may not need to put all your cooking and cleaning products under lock and key just yet. Keep the dialogue open with your teen and be honest about the risks. Let them know that they can come to you if they suspect a friend is using inhalants or if they are tempted to use inhalants themselves. However, if you suspect your teen has been getting high off of inhalants, don’t wait; seek help today. Contact Clearfork Academy at (888) 966-8604. We have helped many teenage boys and girls conquer the effects of addiction and go on to live healthy, sober lives.