Parents have recently been quite nosy about inhalants and whether they really are a problem.  Well, let me help everyone inhale some information on this topic.

While parents of teenagers may feel they are aware of substance abuse issues, many parents have not yet heard about inhalants and their dangers. In fact, inhalants are now the third most abused substance in 12-14 year olds after alcohol and tobacco use. One recent study suggests that 1 in 5 adolescents  have tried inhalants at least once by age 14.

What are they?  Inhalants are common products easily accessible at home or at school such as hair spray, nail polish remover, glue, or even felt tip markers.  Teens are misusing these more and more by breathing them through their nose and throat into their lungs, thinking that the chemicals used in these products gives them a high.

What teens don’t know is that these products are addictive and can cause severe damage to the body by entering the blood through the lungs resulting in headaches, mood changes, depression, muscle weakness, permanent brain damage and death from asphyxia, choking, and fatal heart rhythms – even with a single usage.

How can you tell if your child is using inhalants?  Here are some warning signs that can be suggestive:

  • Their breath and clothing smells like chemicals
  • There are spots and sores around the mouth
  • They appear to be having mood swings
  • They seem drunk, dazed or glassy-eyed
  • There is frequent nose running and coughing, and extremely bad breath
  • They deny using alcohol or drugs
  • They are frequently nauseous with loss of appetite
  • They are quite irritable and anxious
  • They are always tired to the point of exhaustion

Treatment is long-term since most parents usually don’t find out about this problem until it has become an addictive habit.  It involves dealing with withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, headaches and nervousness as well as the many social problems these teenagers have which will require professional counseling as well as assistance from your teen’s doctor.

Therefore the best thing to do is to prevent such abuse from occurring by talking about inhalants with your child or teen and watching for signs of abuse.  It’s also always effective to build up your teenagers self-esteem and confidence so they do not need drugs such as inhalants to feel good about themselves.  You can also teach them how to resist peer pressure.  Your pediatrician can help with some other strategies as well to reduce your teen’s chances of abusing inhalants.

Hopefully tips like this will allow parents to sniff out the problem of inhalants before they really become a problem.

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital at the University of Vermont Medical Center and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM or visit the First with Kids video archives.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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