When you think of street drugs, inhalants are probably not the first thing that pops into your mind. Did you know, however, that they are the most popular of all illicit substances? They are the easiest and cheapest to buy and are free more often than not! In fact they are so easy to get, that elementary school children often try them. There are more than 1000 different kinds. You probably have some in your home right now, whether or not your child has experimented with any of them. They include air fresheners, paints, some felt-tip markers, cooking spray, spray body deodorants, nail polish remover, carburetor cleaner, butane, gasoline, whipped cream from a can, gaseous anesthetics, and air conditioner coolant, as well as hundreds of other substances. In general, if a liquid is volatile, it can be used as an inhalant.
Inhalant use is defined as the intentional breathing of gas or vapors to get high. It is even possible for kids to discover their effects accidentally by simply sniffing to see whether or not something has an odor or scent. Even a police officers and medical professionals can be taken by surprise, finding out too late that their children have been using inhalants. There is a testimony about such an experience at www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSWt8UMRsdY. The man who made this video lost his son to inhalant use. I personally worked at a drug treatment center for adolescents, where some patients had very serious, permanent brain damage from inhalant use – so severe that they will never be able to become self-supporting or even, without constant supervision, be safe from more obvious hazards. The brain is obviously the most critical endangered organ, but other body parts, such as bone marrow, hearts and lungs can also be directly damaged.
Obviously it is impossible to keep all inhalants out of our homes and schools. What can be done, then to protect kids? What can be done to protect your child? Below are steps you can take:
Learn what some signs of inhalant use are, so if your child has been experimenting with them, you might find out before she dies or becomes forever helpless. A good place to start is inhalants.com. Be aware that kids with some conditions such as ADHD, depression, and conduct disorder are at higher risk for any kind of substance abuse. So are kids in families with a history of any kind of substance abuse by any family members. Kids in neither of these categories, however, are also at high risk simply because they move about with immature brains in a perilous world.
Educate your child about the dangers of inhalant use by watching some of the nearly 60 YouTube.com videos about inhalants. If your child says he already knows about them, ask him to tell you all about them. If he is correct, hearing himself speak the facts will reinforce his knowledge. Education includes attitude-shaping, not just imparting knowledge; therefore make him watch the videos with you, even though he may have seen some of them before. If he rolls his eyes or shows any reluctance to watch them, make him do so anyway.
It is not only okay to "spy-on" your child or teen - it is your responsibility. It is also possible to do so without his knowing. Check in his room and in his pockets when he is not home. Do you ever find cloudy plastic bags or stained paper bags? If you have any suspicion that your child has already used any inhalants, get a pediatrician or even a pediatric neurologist to examine him for early damage. The signs of milder physical damage can be quite subtle. Also educate yourself about some changes you might notice, such as reduced attention span and occasional minor tremors.
Of course if you have any hunch that your child might try sniffing or inhaling them or that he already has, do not leave him home alone, keep as many dangerous items as you can locked-up, and wear the key on your person. Even be in the room when he must use products that have propellants or other volatile household products.
If your suspicions are confirmed, get both physical and mental health treatment for him as soon as possible. Unfortunately many families do not have health insurance and some health insurance plans don’t pay well for mental health or drug treatment. Read more about this in an abstract of a statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics about the availability of substance abuse and mental health treatment to children and adolescents. The site address is appolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics;108/4/1025. The United States Department of Health and Human Services has three toll-free phone numbers to help you locate sources of help. The numbers are:
1-800-662-HELP1-800-662-9832 (Español)1-800-228-0427 (TDD)
Most states also have agencies that address these issues.
Remember the steps to SAFETY (Subtance Abuse Family Education & Treatment Yesterday):
S & A stand for substance abuse of any kind – including things in every home. F stands for family, because parents are the first and most important interventionists. E stands for education that must include information and attitude formation. T stands for treatment; professional physical and mental health care is always essential to recovery and sometimes essential to prevention. Y stands for yesterday; that was the best time for action. Now is a day late, but it’s better to be late than sorry.