“They didn’t want to believe that I had a problem … their little girl, you know?”
– Kelli Crockett, 18 years old
Five years ago, 18-year-old Kelli Crockett was already drinking and smoking pot, but she wanted a different “high.”
“And I remember in middle school, actually a drug awareness program hearing about the inhalants, like the household products, you know, and I was like, ‘I know we’ve got something around the house,’ and I really wanted to get messed up,” Kelli says.
Air freshener, glue, paint thinner, furniture polish, hair spray: The government estimates over 17 percent of adolescents have tried inhalants at least once.
Certified Addiction Counselor Ashley Kilpatrick explains: “It’s accessible, I mean, that’s what the problem with inhalants is that they’re just so easy, they’re under the kitchen sink.”
Inhalants cut off oxygen to the brain, and that makes them extremely dangerous. Huffing just once can kill.
“It just feels toxic … you’re high for five minutes and then you feel sick,” Kilpatrick says.
Kelli adds, “I hated the way it made me feel, but … when I didn’t have anything else to use or drink or smoke, I did it cause it was around.”
Experts say a child who’s high on inhalants may seem drunk or disoriented. Parents should also look for signs around the house, like aerosol cans that are out of pressure or punctured on the bottom. There’s also a hangover effect.
“Headaches afterwards, dehydration, you know, bad moods, all that can last up to 24 hours after a use,” Kilpatrick says.
But experts say parents won’t see the signs if they’re in denial.
Kelli says it took an overdose that nearly killed her for her parents to notice. “They didn’t want to believe that I had a problem … their little girl, you know?” she says.
Tips for Parents
Nail polish remover, paint thinner, canned whipping cream, marking pens: Each of these common household items – and literally hundreds more – can be abused by inhaling. Inhalants are volatile substances that produce chemical vapors that induce a psychoactive, or mind-altering, effect when inhaled. Kids sniff, or “huff,” to get high.
According to the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug information (NCADI), sniffing can cause sickness and death. Victims may become nauseated, forgetful and unable to see things clearly. They may lose control of their bodies, including the use of arms and legs. The effects can last 15 to 45 minutes after inhaling. In addition, sniffing can severely damage the brain, heart, liver and kidneys. Even worse, victims can die suddenly – without any warning. It’s called “Sudden Sniffing Death,” which can occur during or right after sniffing. Even first-time abusers have been known to die from breathing inhalants.
More than 1,000 products are potential inhalants that can kill, including:
Gases (whippets, butane, propane)
How can you tell if your child may be abusing inhalants? The NCADI lists the following symptoms to look for in your child:
Unusual breath odor or chemical odor on clothing
Slurred or disoriented speech
Drunk, dazed or dizzy appearance
Signs of paint or other products where they wouldn’t normally be, such as on the face or fingers
Red or runny eyes or nose.
Spots and/or sores around the mouth
Nausea and/or loss of appetite
Appears anxious, excitable, irritable or restlessness (chronic inhalers)
Inhalant abusers also may show the following behaviors:
Sits with a pen or marker near nose
Constantly smells clothing sleeves
Shows paint or stain marks on the face, fingers or clothing
Hides rags, clothes or empty containers of the potentially abused products in closets and other places
If you suspect your child or someone you know is an inhalant abuser, you should consider seeking professional help. Contact a local drug rehabilitation center or other service available in your community.
National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information
National Institute on Drug Abuse