A behavior that peaked in the 1990s, huffing is still an issue with teenagers, particularly younger ones who might not be old enough to access substances like alcohol, marijuana, and opiates, which older teens might experiment with. Huffing is also called inhalant abuse. Do you know what it is and whether your teen is at risk? Find out more about teen huffing and inhalant abuse by continuing to read below.
What Is Huffing?
Huffing is intentionally concentrating and inhaling any of a wide variety of substances that will create a high similar to the one caused by alcohol. The types of substances used can include:
- Volatile solvents (like gasoline, nail polish remover, and certain types of glue)
- Aerosol sprays (like hairspray or spray paint)
- Nitrous oxide
Occasionally, nitrites, which are from room deodorizers, are used.
Because these substances are easily available and usually not locked up or kept away from young people old enough to know not to ingest them, inhalant abuse is something that nearly any young teen can get involved with, despite parental vigilance and supervision.
Short-Term Symptoms of Teen Huffing
While a young person is under the effects of inhalants, the high produced by teen huffing is often similar to alcohol intoxication. If you notice your teen acting as though they are under the influence of alcohol but haven’t been anywhere that they could have accessed alcoholic beverages, they might have used an inhalant to get high.
Here are some of the immediate symptoms of huffing:
- Slurred speech
- Loss of inhibition
- Impaired judgment
Rarely, cardiac arrhythmias can occur during or after teen huffing. In severe cases, these can cause death. This could happen the first time a teen abuses an inhalant or after several months or even years of use.
Long-Term Health Effects of Huffing
While the high from huffing goes away quickly, the health effects don’t.
Severe organ damage can occur from inhalant abuse, and in some cases, it is permanent. One organ that can be damaged from huffing is the brain. Brain damage can result in permanent personality changes, cognitive difficulties, and memory issues. The kidneys, lungs, liver, and heart can also be impacted on a long-term or permanent basis. Since it is often young teens who abuse inhalants, these issues can be magnified, as their bodies are still growing.
Drug or Alcohol Addiction
Another long-term danger of huffing is that many young teens who abuse inhalants will then go on to abuse alcohol or other drugs. Even after they stop huffing, the addiction to these other substances can be difficult to treat and might last a lifetime.
Signs That Your Teen Might Be Huffing
Other than the physical issues and behaviors that you might notice while your teen is under the influence of the inhaled substances, you might also see some other signs that they’re huffing.
For example, you might find that certain items in your household are missing. You might not be able to find the nail polish remover or the spray deodorant, for instance. Or you might find these items in your teen’s bedroom when they are normally kept in other places.
Your teen might become very secretive and not want you to enter their room. You might notice a chemical smell coming from the room and your teen might not have an explanation. Or they might purchase aerosol products that are unusual for him or her to use.
Preventing Teen Inhalant Abuse
One of the best ways you can prevent inhalant abuse is to talk to your child about the dangers of teen huffing. Young teens, in particular, might think that since the substances being inhaled are regular household products, they’re not dangerous. It is important to let your teen know that inhaling the fumes from any substance can cause severe short-term and long-term health issues. It is also important to tell your teen that they need adequate ventilation whenever they use items like permanent markers or super glue.
If you suspect that your teen has a problem with huffing, it is important to make sure you do not leave inhalants around where they can get them. Anything you use that could be concentrated and inhaled should be locked up or otherwise made inaccessible.
Getting Help for Your Teen
You might think that simply removing your teen’s access to inhalants will prevent a further problem. However, there are actually other considerations that you need to keep in mind. For example, your teenager might be struggling with anxiety, depression, or some other issue that they are trying to mask by using inhalants.
For those with social anxiety, for instance, huffing can give them something to do that removes some of their inhibitions and helps them to fit in with other young people who are abusing these substances. In this case, the teen’s social anxiety would need to be addressed along with the inhalant abuse issue.
If your teen is showing signs that require immediate medical care, such as heart palpitations, a severe headache, a nosebleed that will not stop, or severe personality changes, do not hesitate to call 911 or take them to the nearest emergency room. Otherwise, contact your teen’s primary care physician or pediatrician to schedule an urgent checkup and screening for substance abuse.
Your teen’s doctor can refer you to the mental health specialist or addiction counselor needed to help your child kick the habit. They can also check for various health complications that can be caused by inhalant abuse.
Keep in mind that your teen might have additional addiction issues, too. If your adolescent has moved on to using alcohol or other drugs to achieve a high, that dependency will require treatment. They might need inpatient or outpatient care. In addition, they will also likely need various types of therapy, a support group, and maybe medication.
The Bottom Line
Finding out that your child has a problem with teen huffing can be stressful and devastating. The good news is that with treatment, your teen can go on to live a substance abuse-free life. Talk to his or her doctor if you have concerns.