Bagging, Huffing and Youth
If you think kids only use inhalants in the grungiest
neighborhoods of an inner city, think again. A little
walk around your local high school on the week-end may
be an eye-opener. You might find, as I recently did,
lots of thick, black permanent marker pens strewn along
the sidewalk. It took me a minute to realize these markers
were the remnants of getting high by inhaling or huffing.
Inhalants are the drug of choice among pre-teens and
early teens. Common household products, like hair spray,
spray paint, glue, typewriter correction fluid, permanent
markers, nail polish remover, the propellant in canned
whipped cream, felt-tip markers, spray deodorants, air
freshener spray, gasoline, butane lighters and others….can
all be used to get a quick high.
How are these ordinary products used for getting high?
If the vapors from these products are sniffed directly
from the can, bottle or container, it is called "inhaling".
If the vapors from these products are sprayed into a
bag, empty pop can or container and then breathed in,
this is called "bagging". Lastly, the vapors can be
sprayed or poured onto a cloth or piece of clothing
(say, a sock) and inhaled deeply or put into the mouth,
a practice called "huffing".
Why do kids use inhalants? For many reasons. They're
cheap, you can find them in your home or buy them at
any local grocery, hardware or variety store, they are
easy to hide, you don't need a "dealer", you don't need
any extra equipment to use them (so-called drug paraphernalia)
and parents are generally unaware of the problem. Because
these products are so ordinary and legal, kids can often
"explain" why they have them if they are caught.
What kind of high are kids getting? It's usually short-lived.
At first, inhalants have a stimulating effect. Then,
if the user keeps inhaling, they may feel dizzy, giddy,
light-headed or have trouble walking. Sometimes users
may feel agitated and become violent. Repeated inhaling
can cause a child to pass out, and, sadly, because they
rob the body of oxygen, some children die suddenly.
The chemicals kids consume in inhaling are highly toxic
or poisonous. These chemicals enter the lungs and then
pass from the bloodstream into the brain, where they
kill brain cells causing permanent brain damage. According
to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the fumes a teen
inhales are much greater than what is considered safe
even in a workplace setting. Over time, inhalant use
can cause other serious health problems, such as muscle
spasms and permanent damage to the nervous system, liver,
kidney and bone marrow. Sudden death can occur, even
from first-time use, due to suffocation or a high concentration
How does the body get rid of inhalants? By exhaling
(so smelling chemicals on your child's breath may be
a sign of inhalant use) and through urine. What are
other signs of inhalant use?
- Again, breath and clothing that smells like chemicals.
- Spots or sores on the mouth.
- Paint or stains on your child's body or clothing.
- A drunk, dazed or glassy-eyed look.
- Nausea, loss of appetite.
- Anxiety, excitability, irritability.
- Red or runny eyes or nose.
Inhalant use is a very difficult form of substance
abuse to treat. They are both physically and psychologically
addicting. It may take a month or longer to get the
toxins out of your body and users do suffer withdrawal
symptoms. Treatment is usually long-term, sometimes
lasting up to two years. There is a high rate of relapse.
For these reasons, it is important to recognize and
treat inhalant use early on, before it becomes a habit.
So, what can parents do to prevent inhalant abuse?
Know the warning signs and be able to recognize
the possibility of inhalant abuse.
Talk to your kids about the dangers of inhalant
use. Start early, when they are 8 or 9, because most
users are 12-14. Make it clear where you stand on drug
Help your children resist peer pressure by teaching
them it is ok to act independently of a group. For example,
if everyone in the family wants chocolate ice cream
and your child wants vanilla, honor and applaud the
child's independent decision and their ability to resist
the pressure of the group to go along.
Help your child become a confident decision-maker
by giving them choices. For example, let your child
pick out their clothes for school. Applaud their good
decision-making and, in time, give them bigger decisions
Be a good example of making healthy choices.
If you don't walk the talk, your talk won't walk with
If you suspect inhalant use, local help is available.
For more information contact: Your family doctor, school
counselor or school health nurse.
Mid-Columbia Center for Living
National Inhalant Prevention Coalition
1-800-269-4237 or http://www.inhalants.org/
The Partnership for a Drug-Free America (212) 922-1560
© 2000 Michele Spatz MCMC