Sniffing inhalants or “huffing” is an incredibly dangerous yet increasingly popular recreational high. Once common among young teens in the United States, huffing is reported to be a global problem on the rise in countries all over the world. Decades ago, one of the more common substances abused in this way was the glue used to build model airplanes. “Sniffing glue” came to be the term used for all abuse of inhalants, but in more recent years, the term “huffing” has become more widely accepted.
What Substances are Inhaled with Huffing Addiction?
A number of different substances are inhaled, or huffed. Many of these substances at one time were found in common household products as solvents or propellants. However, due to the increased awareness about huffing, some manufacturers have changed formulas to reduce the risk that their product will be inhaled.
Petroleum by products make up one class of inhalants. These would include gasoline, and other products made from refining petroleum such as butane or kerosene. Toluene and acetone, both known carcinogens, comprise another chemical category of inhalants. Certain aerosol hydrofluorocarbons and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are another category of inhalants. Nitrites such as laughing gas (nitrous oxide) and “poppers” (amyl nitrate) make up the final group of inhalants.
Inhalants are categorized separately from other drugs that are technically inhaled. Any drug that is smoked is technically inhaled, but marijuana, hashish, crack cocaine, crystal meth, and other drugs that are smoked are classified differently as they are processed or treated in some way (i.e. set alight and smoked) before they are inhaled. The substances discussed in this article are all classified as inhalants as they do not need to be processed in any way prior to inhaling.
Where Do Inhalants Come From?
This is precisely what makes inhalants so dangerous: they come from legal, relatively innocent products that could be found in any home or garage. Any aerosol spray room freshener, hair spray, nonstick “Pam” type spray, nail polish remover, paint thinner, gasoline or kerosene, magic markers, cigarette lighters, even rubber cement can contain vapors that can be concentrated and inhaled.
In addition, some inhalants are packaged and sold (illegally) at raves. Poppers and whippets contain gases that are mood altering when inhaled and are more commonly used in these settings.
How is it Done?
Different substances are inhaled differently. Gasoline and other volatile chemicals may be inhaled from open containers, since those substances vaporize at room temperature. They may also be inhaled from cloth – rags or a sleeve – dipped in the substance. Other substances can be sprayed directly into the nose or mouth (although this route of inhalation can be fatal), or sprayed into a bag or can and then inhaled from that container.
What are the Signs of Huffing Addiction?
Being able to recognize the signs of huffing is critical for parents, as this practice is both dangerous and ubiquitous among young teens. Your child will appear to be ill very suddenly: look for indications that he or she has suddenly come down with a strange flu. In particular keep an eye out for:
- Any evidence of “huffables” in your child’s room – empty paint cans, glue containers, room fresheners, or other “non sequitur” type garbage that your child hasn’t previously shown any interest in
- Staggering, slurred speech, or disorientation
- Hoarseness, asthma, coughing, or other indications of a change in the functioning of the lungs
- Marks on the hands or face from contact with paint or magic markers – paint residue or other stains. Also check clothing for paint stains or the scent of gasoline.
- Rashes or redness around the nose, mouth, cheeks or hands
- Loss of appetite, nausea, or vomiting
What are the Consequences of Inhalant Addiction and Abuse?
Inhalants are extremely dangerous and can cause death due to lack of oxygen to the brain, even in first-time users. When huffing, the user substitutes the chemical for air, thus depriving the body of oxygen. Dizziness and fainting is often the result. In addition, the chemical being breathed in is often extremely toxic: think about the warning labels present on many of these items, urging consumers to use only in well-ventilated areas.
Frequent or long term use can result in:
- Death due to hypoxia (lack of oxygen to the brain)
- Death due to toxic reactions to the chemicals inhaled
- Death due to “sudden sniffing death” in which shortly after a huffing session, cardiac irregularities develop and the user dies.
- Brain damage
- Weight loss
- Negative impacts upon the central nervous system, resulting in an awkward gait, clumsiness, and problems with muscular coordination
Inhalant addiction is serious and increasing. Forewarned is forearmed: no matter what anyone might tell you, huffing – just once – could kill your teenager or other loved one in your life.
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