Drug Abuse Prevention: Putting a Halt to Huffing (cont.)

Can you describe exactly what the dangers are? Parents need to have the facts in order to have a good conversation with their child about inhalants.

There are a number of serious consequences to even experimenting with inhalants, the most serious of which is something called sudden sniffing death syndrome. A child can die from even first-time use or experimentation of inhalant or the fifth or tenth time. It's like playing Russian roulette with their lives. I talk with about 100 parents a year who have lost their children due to inhalants, so I can assure you this is a very dangerous and potentially fatal activity.

Misuse of these products can also lead to other consequences. Because these products are attracted to fatty cells in the body, a number of things can occur:

  • Short-term memory loss.
  • Hearing loss.
  • Spasms in the arms and legs.
  • Permanent brain damage.
  • Liver or kidney damage.

There has also been some research that indicates the fetal effects of using inhalants may be very similar to fetal alcohol syndrome.

One of the outcomes can be that of intoxication, which will impair judgment and reaction time. Some other things that can happen are emotional instability and cognitive impairment (staggering or stumbling) and there could be a loss of sense of smell.

Not all of these could happen the first or second time an inhalant is used, but it will have an accumulative effect on your child's body.

Do kids who start huffing in grade school usually go on to using more and harder drugs as they get older?

It depends on whether they continue on with risky choices and behavior. There has been some research that has indicated if a child exhibits risky behavior by using inhalants at age 11 or 12 there's a strong indication that they will go on to other substances later in their teenage years or even in college.

If I suspect my son is huffing, is there a test the doctor can do to find out for sure?

The normal tests for substance abuse do not include screening for inhalants whether it's blood, urine or hair samples.

What a parent needs to determine is exactly what products they suspect their child is abusing and they need to find out the components of those products. What I would recommend is either calling the manufacturer or better still, calling their local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

If indeed a parent, guardian or teacher suspects that a child may be using inhalants, they should speak to their family doctor, the school nurse or possibly the guidance counselor in the school.

Parents need to have conversations with their children about anything that can be a potential poison.

Do the poisons build up in the body? Is someone more likely to die if they keep using or is it just as possible to die the first time?

Certainly a person can die the first time, but there is a number of ways a person can die from using inhalants, only one of them being sudden sniffing death. Because of the mental and judgment impairment inhalants cause there is a great likelihood for something like an automobile accident to occur.

If someone continues on and becomes a heavy inhalant user there will be a buildup of toxins in their body, which goes back to the brain and causes neural impairments that I mentioned earlier.

How do I talk to my kids without it seeming like I am accusing them?

What is important, above all else, is to build up a trust with your child, so that you can talk to them about various life-threatening dangers and unintended consequences that may occur from using products like this.

Young people make choices all the time and they take risks. Some of those risks are unavoidable. The obligation that a parent ought to have is to be able to give honest and factual information to their child so they can make appropriate decisions for themselves.

How do you talk to preschool age children about huffing and the dangers to them?

Parents need to have conversations with their children about anything that can be a potential poison. When parents are educating their children about poisons they tell them not to eat or drink something that could make them sick like furniture polish or detergent. They should add to these conversations that these types of things are also not supposed to be smelled directly. So, when you are giving your child a poison prevention message, about any poison , just add smelling, sniffing or otherwise misusing a product to the other things you tell them not to do because they could harm themselves. Doing this insures that all of the poison concepts get lumped together.

Does it help to use poison alert stickers?

I generally think it's a good idea. It's a good visual to warn youngsters away from making bad choices and the most effective with very, very young children. They can make the visual and mental connection between visual and danger.

When we started our program in Texas in 1991, we made a conscious choice to get the poison prevention message to the youngest children, including preschoolers. We conducted independent focus groups to ensure that the wrong message was not being given to a youngster.

Poison is poison, and it is important to get that message across.

Inhalant abuse is everybody's problem and everybody needs to be part of the solution.

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