Inhalant abuse widespread among kids

March 11, 2010 2:12:43 PM PST
There is disturbing news about the form of substance abuse commonly known as "huffing." Researchers have found that this deliberate inhaling of dangerous products is more widespread among young people than many first thought.

Researchers revealed that huffing among 12-year-olds has become more popular than some illegal street drugs-- and the inhalants are legal and commonly found in most homes.

The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that, nationally, 12-year-olds are more likely to use inhalants than marijuana, cocaine or cigarettes. Experts say it is time for parents to wake up to this trend because inhalants could kill their kids.

Computer cleaners, shoe polish, hair spray, nail polish, paint solvents. These are just a handful of household products that 12-years-olds are inhaling to get high.

Ashley Upchurch is now 17. She is a recovering inhalant addict.

"While I had already tried other drugs and alcohol, inhalants were different," Upchurch said. "I would justify using them, because in my mind, at least I wasn't using crack or heroin."

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, nationally, close to 7 percent of all 12-year-olds are using inhalants.

In the Chicago area, inhalant use is not as prevalent as it is in rural areas, but substance abuse expert David Cohen says it is on the rise among 8th graders. Because there are over 1,000 household products that can be inhaled, Cohen says accessibility is one reason why younger kids are trying inhalants.

"The fact that you can go into any store and get them. They're not illegal. They don't require drug dealers. You're not breaking the law," said Cohen.

Known as huffing, experts say inhalants can kill, even if the buzz only lasts between 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

"It is essentially a blackout. You are depriving your brain of oxygen and increasing the amount of poisonous gas to the brain and you're not able to think. You're not able to function. You're not able to see, and you're having auditory hallucinations," said Cohen.

Experts say the problem among 12-to-14-year-olds is that kids in that age group do not see inhalants as risky. Substance abuse expert David Cohen says the computer cleaner Dust-Off is a very popular product kids use as an inhalant. So if you see empty cans, or your adolescent child keeps asking for more Dust-Off, ask your child some questions.

Inhalants can cause permanent brain damage or even death, even the first time they are used.

There are warning signs parents should watch for. They include red or runny eyes or nose. Parents may notice a chemical odor on their child's breath. They may also have a dazed or dizzy appearance and have spots of sores around the mouth.

If you suspect someone may be abusing inhalants, help is available. Call the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition at 1-800-269-4237. Or log onto their website at