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National Institute on Drug Abuse

National Drug Intelligence Center - Brief on Huffing

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Teens Inhaling Poison

By Hannah Goodwyn Producer More teens are involved in huffing (a.k.a. “sniffing” and “snorting”) than you might realize. About 12.5 million Americans have abused inhalants, such as lighter fluid, paint, nail polish remover, or a similar solvent, at least once in their lives.

I am one of them.

It all happened in middle school. With a desire to be accepted by all of the clichés, I idiotically dabbled in huffing. My classmates didn’t initially encourage me to start. But, I thought I would get their approval if I did it.

Sitting in the midst of huddled desks in math class, I’d wait for the opportune time to pull out one of those big felt tip markers when the teacher wasn’t looking. Holding the marker close to my nose, I would take a deep, unrestrained breath inhaling the poison.

It’s not easy to confess this mistake in my past. I’ve rarely spoken of it, in fact. But I don’t think anyone should ignore this issue, even me. It’s a cheap and intense drug that’s easy to hide.

Stop Killing Yourself – The Effects of Huffing

Almost instantly after inhaling toxic fumes, I would get dizzy and feel lightheaded. With any drug, I had a slight euphoric high that temporarily sweetened the experience. It was a weird feeling. By no means was I a serious user. But, it only takes an instant for these chemicals to wreak havoc on your body.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that “huffers” (inhalant abusers) absorb poisonous chemicals through their lungs into their bloodstream and is then dispersed to the brain and other vital organs. These toxins kill brain cells and destroy a person’s health.

According to a brief published by the Environmental Protection Agency, abusing inhalants can cause a series of short and long-term effects, which include:

  • Nausea
  • Nosebleeds
  • Decreased heart and breathing rates
  • Hallucinations
  • Lack of coordination
  • Loss of hearing
  • Liver, kidney and brain damage
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Death

I’ve personally heard tragic stories of teens dying after inhaling just once. The effects are unpredictable, but extremely dangerous.

Now that I’ve thoroughly scared you all, let me say that the sooner you, your child or friend stops inhaling the better. I realized the damage I was doing to my body and stopped. I don’t exactly remember what happened that compelled me to stay away from the markers. But, I thank God for helping me recognize the problem.

Warning Signs to Watch For

It’s important to know what signals to look for when determining if a person is huffing. Here are a few signs of abuse:

  • Disorientation, as if they were drunk
  • Paint stains and strong chemical odors on clothes, face and hands
  • Slurred speech
  • Sores around nose and mouth
  • Red or runny nose
  • Loss of appetite
    *List compiled from data reported in the NDIC Intelligence Brief: Huffing

My parents had no idea I sniffed because I did it just a few times at school. But, most kids don’t stop. So, open your ears and eyes. Be a part of your teen’s life. Ask them straight out if you have a suspicion they are huffing. Don’t ignore your gut feeling.

What to Do

No kind of drug abuse is harmless – especially this one. If you are abusing inhalants, please follow this advice from professional therapist Dr. Linda Mintle.

“An addiction specialist can help you not only stop the behavior, but get to the underlying reasons for doing it in the first place,” Dr. Mintle says.

Parents, be involved in your kids lives. You may be surprised how easily teens can access this drug. They literally can get high off of products in your home or sold at any local grocery or hardware store.

“Talk to [your kids] about the dangers and risks, especially since death and brain damage can happen anytime. Monitor their behavior and remove the poisonous substances from their usage,” Dr. Mintle says.

She also encourages parents to “label these inhalants as poisons” when speaking to younger kids. That’s right. Children as young as elementary school age say they’ve inhaled toxic fumes.

Teens, if you have a friend who is sniffing, please confront them. It’s not a game. If they ignore you and continue abusing inhalants, tell someone else. Take the risk of being resented for their sake. Their health matters more.

Above all – pray! There are a number of reasons why kids inhale chemicals. Bring them before God and ask Him to intervene on their behalf. Pray that they realize the damage they are causing to their bodies and find a way to quit.

The most important thing I did for myself was to stay away from markers altogether. My temptation to abuse them always happened during class, in front of my friends. I was never addicted, so I easily laid it aside after recognizing I didn’t need to sniff to have popular friends and cool reputation.

It will be harder for those who have abused inhalants longer to give it up. Just be patient and seek God’s healing power for them.

Hannah GoodwynHannah Goodwyn regrets even dabbling in huffing, and hopes this article convinces you of its dangers. For more articles and info about Hannah, visit her bio page.

E-mail me your comments!

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