Huffing is deliberately breathing in things like glue, lighter fluid, gasoline, spray paint, nitrous oxide, etc. This form of substance abuse is more common in younger teens (mostly between 7th and 9th grades) than in older teens. I am sad to know, though, that almost 1 in 10- high school students report having inhaled something like this for the purpose of getting high at least once in their lives. Fortunately though, it seems rates of huffing are going down, and the big reason is there is more information out there about what’s wrong with huffing.
Why do young teens try this to begin with? Well, there are many of these substances just sitting around the house, and even if they aren’t they are pretty cheap. And since they are everywhere, a lot of young people believe they are not that dangerous. Unfortunately that is not true.
What actually happens to you depends on what you are inhaling. In general, huffing affects your:
- Brain: it causes slurred speech, being off balance, hallucinations (seeing things that aren’t there), violent behaviors and seizures. One of the scariest things that can be affected in your brain is your breathing center. It can tell the part of your brain that tells your body to breathe to stop breathing. And, as you know, without breathing there is no living.
- Heart: It can cause abnormal heart rhythyms and some inhalants (substances you huff) can permanently affect how your heart beats, leading to heart attacks or deadly heart rhythms. There is something even officially named “Sudden Sniffing Death”. It is exactly what it sounds like. It can occur the first time you huff.
- Rest of your body: It affects your lungs by causing inflammation and irritation, suffocation with bagging (since the gas you are huffing is taking the place of the oxygen that your body needs), and asthma like symptoms. It can make you vomit. It damages your liver and your kidneys. It can cause your blood cells to become damaged – both the red blood cells that carry oxygen to the rest of your body, as well as the white blood cells that fight infection.
So, what to do if you find a friend huffing? A lot of teens who abuse inhalants have mental health needs that should be addressed. You can let them know you care, and you can tell a trusted adult in their life – a parent, a teacher, a counselor, a school nurse. You get the idea. They may need to be screened for depression and suicidal thoughts.
It helps to educate adults and parents that huffing is dangerous, so that they can keep an eye on substances at home or at school or in other places that youth spend time.
For an emergency, like if you find someone unconscious and you think they were huffing (or even for any reason) call 911 and get them to the emergency room. Huffing can be deadly and even if not deadly it can cause permanent damage to the body.
There is a lot of great info here for teens as well – including more info on inhalants as well as resources for helping yourself or a friend who has a problem with drugs.
And lastly, this seems like a good time to remember that just because something is legal doesn't mean it is necessarily safe!