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'Huffing' is the term used to describe the practice of inhaling common households chemicals and solvents such as glue, paint, paint thinner and gasoline to experience their intoxicating effects. Inhalant abuse is a widespread problem due to the simple fact that these substances are found in abundance in every home, and are much easier to come by than illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin and even alcohol.
Huffing inhalants is more common among young people than adults due to the lack of access to conventional drugs, and unfortunately the practice can be much more harmful to health and carry a greater risk of death than the abuse of other drugs.
If you're concerned that someone you care about may be abusing inhalants there are several warning signs you should look out for. While it may not be easy to spot (due to the fact that the presence of inhalants, unlike other drugs, aren't necessarily proof of abuse) suspicion might arise if you find caches of inhalants in locations where they don't belong. For example, you may find tins of paint or containers of gasoline hidden under a youth's bed, or a suspiciously high number of solvent containers in the trash. There may be an innocent explanation, but it should be enough to raise a red flag.
You should also be on the look out for sudden changes in behavior, falling grades, weight loss, poor hygiene, depression and fatigue. Inhalant abuse can cause irritability, paranoia and hostility, so you should be aware of changing moods in the suspected user.
In the immediate aftermath of inhalant abuse users may appear confused, disoriented and unsteady on their legs. In many ways the symptoms of inhalant abuse resemble alcoholic intoxication.
If you discover a loved one is abusing inhalants it's important that you deal with the situation appropriately. Making the wrong decisions here can not only alienate the user and make it more difficult to help them stop, but it may even be hazardous to the health of the user.
If you discover an user abusing inhalants you should attempt to remain calm and refrain from panic. A level head is essential for safely dealing with this situation. If the user is conscious it's all the more vital that you remain calm. Certain inhalants can cause a massively increased sensitivity to adrenaline, and if the user is startled or becomes agitated they may experience adrenaline shock, which can lead to arrhythmia and potentially fatal cardiac arrest. This phenomenon is known as Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome, and it is a leading cause of death in inhalant abusers.
Sudden shocks can also cause the user to become aggressive or even suffer visual and auditory hallucinations, depending on the solvent used. Both yourself and the user may be at risk if either occurs.
If the user is conscious you should escort them to a well ventilated room and attempt to keep them calm. If the user is a person under your authority you should make it clear that they will not be in trouble for their activity, as a concern about punishment may cause agitation. In this case, disciplinary action must wait until the effects of the inhalants have worn off.
If you discover an unconscious user you should call for emergency medical help immediately. If the user is breathing you should place them in the recovery position and ensure that they do not choke on their own vomit should they be sick. If the user is not breathing you should perform CPR until help arrives.
In the immediate aftermath of inhalant abuse that does not result in obvious injury you should nevertheless seek medical help for the user. They may suffer a delayed reaction to the inhalant they abused.
Moving forward it's important to address the problem directly. You should seek out professional help for the user to help identify the reasons for their abuse, and to try to help them quit the habit. Inhalant abuse can be fatal and extremely damaging to health in itself, but it can also serve as a gateway to harder drugs in the future.
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