Study Finds Potentially Deadly Inhalant Abuse More Prevalent Among White Adolescents Living Well-Above the Poverty Level

Inhalant abuse is a killer that has silently crept onto the national scene over recent years with tragic consequences for many families.

A study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has found that adolescents (12 to 17) who try to “huffing,” or sniffing glue, lighter fluid, or other chemicals are more likely to be white and come from families that make more than double the poverty level.

Inhaling chemicals tends to produce a quick, powerful “high,” similar to the effects of drinking alcohol. Since the results are short-lived, however, abusers often inhale the chemicals repeatedly in order to maintain the effects.

“Huffing” is extremely dangerous and can cause serious side effects including seizures, asphyxiation, comas, heart failure, and death. Unfortunately, many young people do not appreciate the risk or believe that it simply won’t happen to them.

According to the study, about 34% percent of teens who tried inhalants for the first time came from families that earned at least two to four times the federal poverty level, while about 33% came from households making four or more times the poverty level.

The study found that some 600,000 adolescents each year (2002, 2003, and 2004 considered) said they experimented with inhalants for the first time. Seventy percent of the teens were white. First-time users were as likely to be girls as boys (50.5% female to 49.5% male).

The report states that 19.4% said they had used inhalants on 13 or more days in the last year, while almost 35% said they had only used them once. By age, 33% of those trying inhalants for the first time were 12 to 13,  39.2%  were 14 or 15,  and 30.8% were 16 or 17.

Most of the adolescents surveyed admitted using cigarettes, alcohol or other drugs before trying inhalants. Over 67% said they had consumed alcohol, about 60% had smoked cigarettes, and some 42% had used marijuana. Almost 36% had used all three before experimenting with chemical inhalants.

The report found the most commonly abused inhalants to be:

  • 30% used glue, shoe polish or toluene — a chemical found in paints, lacquers and solvents.
  • 24.9% used gasoline or lighter fluid.
  • 24.9% used nitrous oxide, or “whippets.”
  • 23.4% used spray paints.

According to Charles Curie, SAMHSA administrator: “These new data show that too many pre-teens and young teens are sniffing or inhaling common everyday household products with potentially disastrous, even deadly results. We hope to use this opportunity to help raise awareness among parents about the potential for danger in their own homes.”

Parents are advised to keep a close watch on their children and any unusual activities such as: the presence of chemicals (especially aerosol cans) in their rooms or hidden around the house; erratic behavior or personality changes; frequent purchases of (or constantly running out of) aerosol products such as computer “dusters,” oven cleaners, or stain removers.

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