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Inhalant use more common among younger children

Sara Bowles

Statistics can say many things. Statistically, in Hubbard County our Minnesota Student Survey results put inhalant use among 6th, 9th and 12th graders in the 1-2 percent range. One can conclude from these statistics that most of our kids don't use. Not too bad right? So why talk about inhalants?

Influence: Inhalant use is especially common among young children; by eighth grade one in five children has experimented with huffing at least once. Inhalant use often results in children dropping out of school. With the economy the way it is, inhalant use has the potential to increase. Inhalants are free and easy to get. Inhalants are a starting point, but can also be the end. Bottom line: any use is too much use.

Inhalants are substances or fumes that are sniffed or "huffed" to cause a high. The most frequently mentioned types of inhalant used are markers, glue, shoe polish, or toluene; gasoline or lighter fluid; and spray paints, cooking spray - household products that are readily accessible to many youths. Many are sprayed in a plastic bag or on a cloth or even into a pop can and inhaled in a closed environment.

Influence: Inhalants affect your brain with great speed and force and keep oxygen from reaching your lungs. Research shows that most inhalants are extremely toxic and can cause long-lasting damage to the brain and other parts of the nervous system. To prolong intoxication, users often huff many times in a row, until they pass out. This is a very dangerous practice and can be fatal. Research studies show that chronic abuse of inhalants such as toluene damages the protective layer around certain nerve fibers in the brain and nervous system, similar to that seen with multiple sclerosis. Inhalants also are highly toxic to other organs. Chronic exposure can produce significant damage to the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys as well as muscle weakness.

Influence: Depressed teens are more likely to use inhalants, but the reverse is also true, showing that teens often started using inhalants before depression began. Although some inhalant-induced damage may be at least partially reversible when abuse is stopped, much is irreversible. Someone who repeatedly uses inhalants may lose the ability to learn new things, may not recognize familiar things, or may have a hard time keeping track of simple conversations. Inhalants can also cause sudden death. "Sudden sniffing death" can happen after the first or any time a person uses inhalants due to suffocation, choking, heart attack or accident due to black out or seizure.

Watch for warning signs:

-Apparent drunkenness

-Chemical odors from breath, clothing or child's room

-Irritability, social withdrawal and depression

-Loss of appetite

-Nausea and vomiting

-Red or runny nose

-Sores and rashes around the mouth and nose

-Paint stains on the hands, face and clothes

-Hidden empty spray paint or solvent container, or rags soaked with chemicals

Listen for these common terms for abused inhalants including Amys, boppers, climax, gluey, hardware, head cleaner, locker room, moon gas, poor man's pot, poppers or snappers.

Influence: We need to educate ourselves. We need to be aware of the possible dangers in our own home. We need to watch our children closely and take nothing for granted. Do we treat our area youth in a way that they choose to be influenced by us? Do they see benefit from interacting with us? Do they feel loved and safe when they spend time with us? Are they happy with how they feel about themselves when they are around us? Do we help them decrease or forget the source of their stress when they are with us? What can you do to win the competition for influence?

Gary Russell is a good resource on toxic solvent abuse. He can be reached at Evergreen House in Bemidji, 218-751-4332.

Sara Bowles is chemical health coordinator for the Hubbard County Youth Drug and Alcohol Task Force. She can be reached at

218-252-8275, or go to