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Why is Huffing Addictive and Lethal?

Huffing | Paradigm Malibu

When you think about keeping your teen from drugs, your immediate thoughts might settle on marijuana, alcohol, party drugs, painkillers, and maybe harder drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine. Many parents forget about substances that are much easier and cheaper for kids to get a hold of: glue, paint, nail polish remover, aerosol sprays, and other household chemicals that can be huffed (sniffed) for a high. As innocuous as these substances might seem when they’re in your garage or bathroom or under the kitchen sink, huffing is dangerous, addictive, and, in some cases, lethal. Read on for information on what makes huffing so dangerous, the signs that your teen might be huffing, and what you can do if you suspect this type of substances abuse.


Why do Teens Huff?


If your teen is huffing, he or she is doing it for the immediate high. The chemicals go into the lungs, then into the bloodstream, where the heart pumps them through the body, including to the brain. The high is similar to being drunk; he or she might have slurred speech, poor coordination, and dizziness. Someone who is huffing will also often feel euphoric and happy. The high only lasts a few minutes, however, and then there will be a letdown.


Because the good feelings go away quickly, your teen might do it again and again in a short period of time. This increases the high, but it also makes the withdrawal symptoms worse. It also increases the danger, because the brain and other organs are exposed to the chemicals over and over again. Different chemicals produce different types of highs, so the amount of time that the high lasts and how your teen will feel during withdrawal can vary.


Short Term Effects of Huffing


Huffing is dangerous in both the short- and long-term. When your teen inhales any chemical, it affects the brain, the heart, and other organs of the body. Depending on the type and amount of substance inhaled, your teen’s heart will speed up, he or she might feel disoriented, and they might even lose consciousness. Once the high begins to go away, your teen might vomit, develop a headache, and become lethargic.


During a high, your teen will probably lose some inhibitions and may have the urge to engage in risky behavior. This can put him or her at risk of being in a car accident, being in another type of accident, having unprotected sex, getting into a fight, or using additional drugs. He or she might also become belligerent and argumentative, which can cause problems with his or her friends, family, employer, teacher, or even the law.


Long Term Effects of Huffing


Huffing is addictive, so an addiction is a very real long-term effect of the practice. Because the high lasts such a short period of time, teens might use the chemical over and over again over the course of a few hours or a day. They can build up a tolerance and be at risk of an overdose. In the case of huffing a chemical, and overdose can result in unconsciousness and even death.


In addition to the dangers of addiction and overdose, there are other long-term effects that can wreak havoc on your teen’s life. He or she might suffer from muscle weakness that lasts for a long time. They might also have headaches and nosebleeds that persist past the time that they’re actually using the substance. Huffing can cause brain damage, depression, and even a permanent loss of smell, called anosmia.


Death By Huffing


Huffing can cause death, even if it’s the first time that a person is trying it. It’s important to let your teens know about the dangers of huffing. One way that the abuse can cause death is by sudden sniffing death syndrome, or SSDS. With SSDS, the heart beats erratically in a way that can lead to cardiac arrest, which leads to death within a few minutes.


If the person huffing is breathing in too much of the inhalant and not enough oxygen, they can die from asphyxia. This is when toxic fumes build up in the lungs and not enough oxygen reaches the brain and other organs. Sometimes when a person huffs, they pass out. If they vomit while unconscious, they can choke to death. And of course, bad decisions made during a high can lead to death. For example, a teen high on inhalants can die in a car accident or from jumping from a high surface.

Signs of Inhalant Abuse and What You Can Do


The signs of huffing can be similar to the signs of abusing any substance. They can include mood swings, anger, depression, nausea and vomiting, a loss of appetite, and other non-specific symptoms. There are also some signs that are specific to huffing. For example, your teen might have a lot of nosebleeds. His or her breath might have a foul, strange odor. They might have a rash or blisters in and around the nose and mouth, or a frequently runny nose and watery eyes.


If you notice these signs in your teen, it’s important to get to the bottom of the issue. Ask your child if he or she is huffing or using any other substances. Some teens will lie, but others will admit that they have a problem. Bring your teen to their regular doctor for a checkup. Some of the symptoms of substance abuse can be caused by physical or mental health problems, so it’s important to have them checked. If you see your teen huffing or have other reason to strongly suspect that that’s the issue, call the doctor for a referral to a substance abuse specialist. If your teen has severe symptoms caused by huffing, head to the nearest emergency room or call 911.


Huffing is a type of substance abuse that might seem like no big deal to your teen, but it is, in fact, a very big deal and can seriously impact his or her health for years to come. Talk to your adolescent about the dangers of this practice, and watch for symptoms if you suspect there might be a problem.


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