While there are a variety of drugs and substances available for abuse, many young teenagers, including those in middle school, are turning to inhalants. As a substance that is abused through inhalation at the nose and mouth, children who engage in this type of substance abuse often suffer substantial risk for illness and death, usually by asphyxia.
As a form of substance abuse that is difficult to diagnose, parents of children who are abusing inhalants but be keen to the symptoms and effects. Statistically, it is estimated that nearly 20 percent of all students use inhalants but the side effects and symptoms are often overlooked because the products used are usually household chemicals, such as cleaning agents.
As a parent, it is important to understand what products your child may use when engaging in inhalant substance abuse. You may be surprised to learn that items as simple as permanent markers and nail polish remover are quite common. When these items are not readily available, your teenager may turn to hair spray or room fresheners as a method for acquiring a “high” with inhalants.
More complex substances may include paint thinner, spray paint, lighter fluid and even rubber cement. In most hardware stores, these items are not sold to children under the age of 18; offering some protection against inhalant abuse. However, even with restricted sales, if your teenager is insisted on inhaling these more potent chemicals, he, or she, may find ways to work around the process of identification for legal purchase.
Even greater is the challenge of symptoms identification. If your child is abusing inhalants, you may notice an abnormal gait, due to dizziness, complaints of headache and loss of appetite. Often, however, teenagers are quite good at disguising these symptoms.
In terms of prevention, the best method known involves a combination of, first, removing or restricting access to these inhalants in the home and, second, speaking openly and frankly with your children about the risks and complications associated with inhalant substance abuse. Often, if your child knows you are aware of the side effects and symptoms, this may, in some way, deter their abuse for fear that you will find out.
As with any form of substance abuse, if you believe your teenager is engaged in any type of activity that may be harmful to their health, seek medical attention immediately. While inhalant substance abuse is difficult to diagnose, your physician can run some blood work to differentiate the presence of inhalants by testing the total blood count, the levels of calcium and phosphorous and even check liver and kidney enzyme function. When confirmed as an “at-risk” child for inhalant abuse, the appropriate drug counseling services may be necessary.