10 Facts About Inhalant Abuse: It’s NEVER Safe!

I will often peruse the news from other cities across the country where teens are involved.  Car accidents, cold medicine abuse, acute alcohol intoxication, diving into the shallow end of the pool, fights, and the choking game are frequent topics of tragic stories.  Sadly, many parents whose children are involved in these catastrophic events rarely knew that the choking game existed, or that their son or daughter had access to gallons of alcohol at the neighbor’s house.

When I read these stories, I can't help but think like a mother and an ER nurse.  I have seen many cases of teens making poor choices, and some have indeed resulted in death.  I come home and boldly tell my boys about these incidents because if anything good is going to come out of a tragedy, it should be to prevent others from making the same error in judgement.

In recent months, I have noticed that there have been several stories of teens and young adults who have died from inhaling gases, aerosols, solvents and nitrites.  “Sniffing” or “snorting” gases such as Freon, helium, propane and nitrous oxide, and huffing rags soaked in paint thinner, nail polish remover and gasoline.  “Bagging” involves spraying a chemical directly inside a plastic bag, which is placed over the head so the fumes can be inhaled.  In this case, the fumes can render someone unconscious with the bag over their head causing asphyxiation and death.  The use of inhalants can have deadly consequences, and inhalant abuse is NEVER safe!

I have compiled some facts here from reputable sources such as the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  Inhalant abuse is real, and your child can be participating in this risky behavior right under your nose.

  1. Over 2.1 million kids, ages 12-17, have used an inhalant to get high.
  2. 1 out of 5 school-aged children in the U.S. has intentionally abused a common household product to get high by the time they reach eighth grade.
  3. More than 1,400 different products are commonly abused.
  4. Many youngsters say they began sniffing while in grade school.  In fact, abuse of inhalants often begins at age 10 or 11, although children as young as six have been known to experiment with inhalants.
  5. Abusing inhalants can kill, and can kill the first time they are used.  Victims can suddenly die without warning.  “Sudden Sniffing Death” can result from a single session of inhalant use…it could be their very first attempt.
  6. Inhalant abuse is VERY ADDICTIVE.  Many abusers say they have a strong need to continue using, and withdrawal can occur with long-term inhalant abuse.
  7. Those who abuse inhalants are represented by both sexes, and all socioeconomic groups.
  8. Because inhalant abuse deaths are often attributed to other causes, no one will know for certain how many lives are taken by inhalant abuse.
  9. In addition to “sudden sniffing death”, medical consequences include: asphyxiation; fatal injury from accidents including falls, crashes and other traumatic injuries; coma; seizures; choking on inhaled vomit; HIV/AIDS/Hepatitis and other STDs from impaired thinking and reasoning which may result in unsafe sexual practice.
  10. Inhalant use causes long term effects including: suppressed immune function; bone marrow injury; burns; liver, brain, kidney and lung damage; reproductive complications; damage to hearing and vision.  All body systems are affected in one way or another.

Signs and symptoms of use include chemical or unusual odor on the breath or clothing, slurred or disoriented speech, drunk or dazed appearance and paint on the face, around the mouth, or on the fingers.  Users may also have red or runny eyes or nose, and sores around the mouth.  They may be hiding rags, clothes or empty containers and abusers may sniff their sleeves, or sit with a pen or marker near their nose.

Getting Help: Call 911 if the person is unconscious or confused, seizing, is not breathing adequately or is experiencing any other problem that you consider to be life altering or life threatening.  If you suspect that your child is abusing inhalants, an evaluation by a doctor or mental health professional is necessary.  This can be done emergently through your local emergency department, with your regular physician through local substance abuse programs. You can also contact your local poison control at 1-800-222-1222 if you have questions.   There are also many websites that can offer support and assistance.  I have included links to some of these websites below.


National Institute on Drug Abuse: Inhalant Abuse

Inhalant Abuse: Is Your Child at Risk? - MayoClinic.com

The Partnership at Drugfree.org: Inhalants

CPSC - A Parent's Guide to Preventing Inhalant Abuse


News Reports

Death of Illinois Teen Highlights the Dangers of Huffing Inhalants

14-Year-Old Girl Dies After Inhaling Computer Duster - NBC Southern California

Huffing crash: Highland Park teen accused of huffing before fatal crash pleads not guilty - Chicago Tribune

Toulon man receives 12 years for "huffing" before fatal crash - Peoria, IL- pjstar.com

Inhalant abuse on rise: Dangerous chemicals seen under most sinks

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