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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Inhalant Abuse: Growing Problem Often Starts With Very Young

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He hears from the upper- and middle-class white parents whose children have died. They say, "I talked to my child about alcohol, sex, marijuana, and cocaine, but I never thought my child would do anything like this," Weiss tells WebMD. "Or they take their child to see a pediatrician or family doctor, and the doctor tells them they don't think it's a problem. They just don't recognize inhalant abuse ... When they come to me, they're saying 'What do I do now?'"

In fact, "the whiter the population, the wealthier the population, the less understanding there is that this is a problem," says Weiss. "There's a vision of who does inhalants, and it's poor people, people of color, people with not much of education. There's denial that this goes on in upper- and middle-class families, when in fact it cuts across all socioeconomic levels."

What are your kids doing with this stuff? Sometimes they sniff or inhale it directly from the container. Or they may spray the stuff into a bag or an empty soft drink can and breathe it in. Or they may spray or pour the substance onto a cloth or piece of clothing and inhale deeply. And nitrous oxide can be inhaled straight from a balloon.

Among the household items used: cooking spray, typewriter correction fluid, disinfectants, fabric protectors, furniture polish, oven cleaners, spray deodorants, hair spray, nail polish remover, butane, gasoline, glues and adhesives, rust removers, and spray paints.

"They are cheap, easy to get, and easy to hide," says the AAP. "For a few dollars, a can of butane offers a quick high. Or a child can sit in class and secretly sniff correction fluid. Because inhalants are legal, kids can easily make excuses if they are caught with them. Another appeal ... is the social part of using them ... most inhalant abuse is thought to be done with friends."

How can you recognize inhalant abuse in your child? Short-term effects include headaches, nausea, vomiting, loss of balance, dizziness, slurred and slow speech, mood changes, and hallucinations. Over time, inhalants can cause more serious damage such as loss of concentration, short-term memory loss, hearing loss, muscle spasms, permanent brain damage, and even death.

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