Fast Facts about Huffing

Fast Facts about Huffing

Fast Facts about Huffing

“Huffing,” or inhaling volatile substances, is becoming increasingly popular among children, especially among 12- to 14-year-olds (Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 1998;152(8):781–786).

Alarmingly, about 20% of eighth-graders report having done it (International Journal of Addiction, 1993;28:1613–1621).

Besides sudden cardiac arrest (the most common cause of death from inhalants), huffing can kill quickly in a number of other ways. Motor vehicle accidents, falls, and other traumatic injuries are common and horrible. Others die from suffocation, burns, suicide (from the depression that can follow the high), and from choking–on their own vomit.

Huffing can kill the very first time children experiment with it. About 22% of those who die from huffing do so the first time they try it (Human Toxicology, 1989;8:261–269).

When huffing doesn’t kill quickly, it damages the body each time–especially the brain. Huffing can cause memory loss, impaired concentration, hearing loss, loss of coordination, and permanent brain damage. Chronic use can cause permanent heart, lung, liver, and kidney damage as well.

Solvents (found in glues, paints, and polishes), fuels (such as butane), nitrites (found in deodorizers), and almost any kind of aerosol spray can be responsible.

Most huffing takes place with friends (although kids who sniff correction fluid in class when their teachers turn away are not uncommon). Be observant of your child and his or her friends.

Inhalants gradually leave the body for 2 weeks following huffing–mostly through exhaling. The characteristic odor is the biggest clue. Be on the lookout for breath or clothing that smells like chemicals. Look for clothing stains. Watch for spots or sores around the mouth.

Nausea, lack of appetite, weight loss, nervousness, restlessness, and outbursts of anger can all be signs of inhalant abuse. A drunk, dazed, or glassy-eyed appearance might mean your child is abusing inhalants right now.

If you suspect or discover that you child is huffing, get professional help. Treating inhalant abuse is very difficult and requires expert intervention. Withdrawal symptoms may last for weeks. The relapse rate without a long-term (2-year) program is very high.

Preventing huffing is far better than trying to treat an inhalant addiction. Talking with your child about it is more powerful than anything else (NIDA Research Monograph, 1988;85:8–29).

Start talking with your child about it now. Although huffing peaks between the ages of 12 and 15 years, it often starts “innocently” in children only 6 to 8 years old (Pediatrics, 1996;97:3).

Literally thousands of easily available substances can be inhaled, so you can’t keep your child away from them. You can, however, educate and inspire.

For more information on huffing, I recommend visiting www.inhalant.org.

Reviewed by: Khanh-Van Le-Bucklin, Stephanie D'Augustine
Last reviewed: December 05, 2008
Dr. Alan Greene

Article written by

Dr. Greene is the founder of DrGreene.com (cited by the AMA as “the pioneer physician Web site”), a practicing pediatrician, father of four, & author of Raising Baby Green & Feeding Baby Green. He appears frequently in the media including such venues as the The New York Times, the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, & the Dr. Oz Show.

 

Comments

  • Sharon Tharp

    it’s not just for teenagers, my soon-to-be-ex 51 year old husband started huffing spray paint when he was 16 years old, left it for many years (with occasional relapses) and then about 3 years ago started doing it on a regular basis. His huffing history rendered him sterile and it has totally messed up his personality. He has a Dr. Jekyll Mr. Hyde persona. When in Mr. Hyde mode he goes into rages where he is foaming at the mouth. He is unable to function at work and in his relationships. His continued use has destroyed our future, our marriage, his career, and I am really surprised it has not killed him yet. So — spray paint can be a deceiver. You can NOT live a normal, functioning life on that addiction. Be aware and stay away from it!

    • Dr. Alan Greene

      Sharon, thank you for sharing your sobering story. I’m so sorry for all you’ve been through and are going through with this tragic turn, and so appreciative of your hard-won wisdom that could make a big difference for other adults and their significant others.

    • Alan Greene

      Sharon, thank you for sharing your sobering story. I’m so sorry for all you’ve been through and are going through with this tragic turn, and so appreciative of your hard-won wisdom that could make a big difference for other adults and their significant others.

  • melissa

    My son was caught in class today sniffing a dry erase marker. The teacher called me to inform me and I am VERY concerned. He said he was only smelling the marker and he has always been the type to try and make people laugh. I dont want to over react and freak out on him but Im just not sure how to approach this. I have researched a bunch of info and videos to educate him with but Im not sure how hard I should be on him with this . Do I ground him? Do I send him to counseling to see what the source is to make him do this or see if this is really an issue? I just want to do the right thing.