There is a stealthy killer hidden in your home. We have learned to keep aspirin and other medicines from small children. But older ones from 2nd grade up are learning to use all sorts of domestic and commercial cleaners, paint, glue, and over the counter remedies to get high. Close to a thousand everyday household products are used as inhalants by children and youth. And some of them are dying suddenly and senselessly. The fact that they are readily available, not considered “illegal drugs,” have other practical uses, and are less likely to get one in trouble, may partially account for their popularity.
Inhalants come in many different forms-from glue to petrol to laughing gas and poppers. Glue is the most commonly abused inhalant in South Africa and glue-sniffing is prevalent amongst many young children, many of whom live on the street…. Many people do not see inhalants as drugs, because they are freely available in the home or workplace and they have other uses. These inhalants are popular among children because they are cheap, readily available, require no special equipment to use, and they take effect immediately and wear off quickly….
From Canada (Canadian Pediatric Society, Indian and Inuit Health Committee; www.cpa.ca):
Inhalant abuse is the intentional inhalation of a volatile substance for the purpose of achieving a euphoric state. It is also known as solvent abuse, volatile substance abuse, glue sniffing, sniffing and huffing. Beginning with children as young as six years of age, it is an under-recognized form of substance abuse with a significant morbidity and mortality….. Peak age of inhalant abuse is 14-15 years, with onset occurring in those as young as six to eight years of age.
From Europe (Summary of VSA Evidence within the ESPAD Database):
Ireland (2000) Among young people (9-18) after cannabis, solvents are the most widely abused substance…
Roumania (2000) A serious problem of the society is represented by the inhaling of solvents…
From the U.S.A.
National Household Survey on Drub Abuse (NHSDA) “In 2000 there was an estimated 979,000 new inhalant users, up from 410,000 in 1985. During 2001, more than 18 million (8.1%) of persons 12 and older reported using an inhalant at least once in their lifetime.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in 2003 warned that inhalants were often the first drug young kids will use, that 12.7% of 10th graders and 11.2% of 12th graders said they had abused inhalants at least once.
Monitoring the Future (University of Michigan) reported in 2004 that the only two substances to show significant rise in abuse are inhalants and Oxycontin.
The National Inhalant Prevention Coalition says, “Inhalants are an equal opportunity method of substance abuse. Statistics show that young, white males have the highest usage rates. Hispanic and American Indian populations also show high rates of usage.”
Effects: The effects of inhalant use resemble alcohol inebriation. Upon inhalation, the body becomes starved of oxygen, forcing the heart to beat more rapidly in an attempt to increase blood flow to the brain. The user initially experiences stimulation, a loss of inhibition, and a distorted perception of reality and spatial relations. After a few minutes, the senses become depressed and a sense of lethargy arises as the body attempts to stabilize blood flow to the brain, usually referred to as a “head rush.” Users can become intoxicated several times over a few hours because of a chemical’s short-acting, rapid-onset effect. Many users experience headaches, nausea, vomiting, slurred speech, loss of coordination, and wheezing.
Consequences: There is a common link between inhalant abuse and problems in school. Inhalants are often a first step to other “hard drugs.” The number of deaths in the U.S. due to inhalants is increasing year by year. Inhalant use can become extremely addictive. It is hard to find treatment centers and withdrawal is extremely painful. Lasting permanent damage can be done to the body as shown above.
Be sure to read the Articles under this topic and related ones like Dust Off and Huffing; they point to the tragedy and needless pain that will never go away in families who have suffered loss. The fact that friends have tried this many times without dire consequences, even the realization that you yourself have gotten high this way and not harmed yourself, hides the fact that someone can die from an inhalant the first time, the tenth time or the hundredth time you use such chemicals for highs. It can be a sudden, unexpected and irreversible death.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
1. What made you interested in this topic? Do you know anyone who has used an inhalant? Anyone who uses them frequently?
2. Did this article offer you a perspective that made sense? Did it provide any new and useful facts? How would you have written this article from your experience? What suggestions or criticisms do you have? What questions?
3. Do you think it’s possible to keep most children and youth away from inhalants? If so, how? If not, what should we do?
4. How do you think we could help someone who is inhaling and doesn’t want to quit?
5. Does your faith or religion offer any help here in terms of remedy or prevention?
1. This problem among poor and homeless children has been recognized for many years. As often is the case, when only gets people’s and governments’ attention when it begins to hit middle-class families.
2. In the U.S., deaths from dust off (and similar robo-tripping and passing out games) have made the news and forced us to consider the problem of inhalants and other related highs.
3. Remembering kids I’ve often talked to on Nairobi streets, children in rags, grateful for a loaf of bread, but until bread comes along, with a can of glue up their sleeve, makes me want the world to fight poverty and to help kids kicked or beaten out of homes. The glue is all these kids have to numb their physical and emotional pain-even as it eats out their brains.
4. Some well-off kids may sniff a solvent just for fun. Somehow their lives may be empty or even painful. We must pay attention.
5. Certainly, we must include inhalants in our efforts against drugs.