Is Huffing Still a Problem?

Many parents and educators are unaware of the tremendous inhalant abuse problem that still exists in the United States.

Just some of the chemicals used for huffing

I was surprised a few nights ago when in a parent group someone asked me if huffing was still a problem in the United States. This was especially surprising given that the meeting was in a junior high school.

“Huffing” is common slang term for the intentional inhalation of gases or vapors with the purpose of achieving a high. Chemicals that are used this way exist in any household, under the sink or in the garage. This is also called inhalant abuse and been the cause of a long list of damages, ruined lives and deaths.

The practice of huffing is more prevalent in middle schools, grades six through eight, but can continue through high school, college and into adulthood. According to the National Institutes of Health, the choices of substances used changes from household products such as glue or spray paint around ages 12-15, then from 16 to 17 switching to nitrous oxide, or, ‘Whippets’. Adults more often abuse nitrites such as amyl nitrite, or, “poppers.”

What was surprising to me wasn’t that the subject came up, but that anyone could consider the problem of inhalants might be over. I speak to many kids who tell me that the huffing of glue, gasoline, lighter fluid, cleaning solutions and many other volatile chemicals is still common at parties and in school or after school.

When I looked further in the 2014 edition of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health I found that the numbers of youth using these substances, has been trending downward for the last ten years, but the age group that is still at the top of the charts is ages 12-17.

The dangers of this practice are many.

Nearly all the these gases produce loss of sensation and unconsciousness if taken in sufficient quantity. Other short term effects include:

1. Extreme agitation and anger

2. Rashes and skin conditions

3. Rapid changes in attitude or demeanor

4. Loss of appetite

5. Weird smells and bad breath

But there are many long term consequences that the students are almost certainly unaware of:

1. Muscle spasms

2. Hearing loss

3. Central Nervous System damage

4. Brain damage

5. Damage to bone marrow

Because inhalants displace oxygen in the body, death from heart failure or suffocation can occur if large enough quantities are sniffed.

Just based on my experiences, (which includes speaking to hundreds of thousands of kids from third grade through college) a big reason this problem goes undetected by most parents and teachers is that so many kids only try huffing once or a few times. That might not be enough for signs of trouble to be noticeable in class or at the dinner table.

But whether it’s just a few times or only once, huffing any amount of these poisonous chemicals can be enough to damage a young growing boy or girl.

How to treat this problem is complex question. Mistakes have been made with large scale promotions aimed at alerting kids to the dangers of huffing. After all was said and done, this ended up creating a bigger problem by alerting millions of youngsters that they could actually get a “Buzz” from products that were already on hand in the kitchen or the garage.

Teens can be notoriously brave because of ignorance and a general lack of experience. That’s why the number of kids huffing falls significantly after high school.

So, the answer to the huffing is education.

Educating youngsters at an early age about the damages that can and do occur from inhalants is the only way out of the mess we’re in on this issue. To leave children uneducated about the harms of huffing is tantamount to failing to teach them to stay out of traffic.

Narconon Center in Nevada

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Tony Bylsma

Tony Bylsma has been working for Narconon as a counselor, administrator and educator in various areas of the US for many years. In addition to helping people overcome their addictions and live drug-free lives, Tony has spoken to over six hundred thousand students, parents and professionals regarding drug abuse and effective abuse prevention. This year Tony is celebrating his 40th year of sobriety!