Welcome to the murky world of substance abuse that is no longer restricted to cocaine, marijuana, heroin, Ecstasy and the like. Easily available household items are the substances of choice for many kids who use them to ” get a high” and relax. Ask any teen about this and he will tell you about his friends who sniff glue, eat bread laced with Iodex or shoe polish, inhale paint, nail polish, gas and petrol and worse, play deadly games like the ‘choking game’.
An innocuous helium balloon can also be a source of substance abuse, however ridiculous that may sound. Remember the scene in My Best Friend’s Wedding where a group of young boys clustered around pink and white helium balloons sing a popular love song in a funny squeaky voice and giggle uncontrollably thereafter? Inhaling helium from a balloon can change the voice to make it sound like a cartoon character’s as it changes the way vibrations come through your voice box. The gas makes one feel lightheaded and dizzy. It can be deadly as this gas replaces oxygen in the bloodstream, resulting in loss of consciousness, ruptured lungs and cerebral gas embolism.
A few deep breaths are all it takes to make him feel light headed. For a brief period, he feels elated, free of exam jitters. This is not something new to him. His friends introduced him to inhaling dendrite and ink when he was in all of 14 and ever since then inhaling substances has been the ‘in’ way to ‘chill out and relax’.
They are commonly found in glue, nail polish remover, typewriter correction fluid, felt-tip markers, butane lighter fluid, oven cleaners, hair spray, and furniture polish to name a few. Because these substances aren’t illegal, they’re easy and cheap for kids to obtain and hide at home or at school. “The ingredients in these substances act on the chemical receptors of the brain resulting in a feeling of pleasure. Kids get hooked onto this high feeling,” says Dr Monica Chib, senior consultant psychiatrist, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital. Cleaning liquids, air fresheners and paint contain chemicals which also purportedly give a high and have a damaging effect on the body.
“Concern over this disturbing trend is growing as many children are suffering the inevitable health consequences of these habits. The frightening part is that the kids don’t realise that these seemingly innocuous habits damage the health as much as smoking marijuana and doing cocaine,” says Dr Rachna Singh, consultant psychologist, Artemis Hospital. Parents are also completely unaware of the extent to which substance abuse can go, and many simply refuse to believe that their offspring is capable of such behaviour.
Health impacts of sniffing
The number of children who abuse inhalants has doubled in the last decade, say doctors. The risk is enormous because the effects of inhaling toxic chemicals are so unpredictable. “A child who tries a certain amount and appears okay could use the same amount another time and get very sick or even die. Some kids have died the very first time they’ve sniffed an inhalant; their parents never even had the chance to notice warning signs,” says Dr Singh.
Many factors to blame
Dendrite, Erasex, ink and deodorant sprays are familiar paraphernalia in an average teenager’s room. However these substances pose a cheap and easily available way to get high. The habit might begin innocuously enough with a friend suggesting a way to relax after a rigorous period of studying or from information gleaned online or from the peer group. The most common substance used by teens and young adults to get high are inhalants, sniffed for their mindaltering or behavioural effects.
Doctors blame excessive competition, stress and the internet for this growing trend. A desire to “fit in” also drives such behaviour. Ask any teen why they choose to dabble in such dangerous activities and they will immediately tell you it is not as bad as doing drugs and they do it because it is ‘cool’. Go online and you will find blog sites where youngsters discuss ways of relieving boredom or stress. A member of one such site blithely suggests choking oneself to get a ‘natural’ high if someone is bored at home. Yet another one shares his experience of sniffing gas and “feeling unimaginably light”.
Looking for an easy high
The use of glue and other inhalants, as well as excessive alcohol consumption, are all possible causes of acute respiratory failure. Ongoing drug and alcohol abuse, as well other lung problems can also lead to chronic respiratory failure, a condition in which the body can’t take in enough oxygen over time. In serious cases, chronic respiratory failure can lead to coma.
The “high” you can get from sniffing glue or inhaling other chemicals may cause a temporary sense of euphoria or hallucinations. However, these feelings only last a few minutes and aren’t worth the risks to your health.
- brain and central nervous system damage
- heart rhythm disturbances
- liver damage
- kidney damage
- lung problems
Neurological testing is also critical in planning a treatment program. Doctors will need to see if there are any permanent injuries to brain function and memory. A person’s mental and emotional health will also need evaluation by a trained therapist.
Sniffing glue is a cheap, but dangerous way people have used to get high for many years. Solvent glue is one of many common substances that fall under the category of “inhalants.” Others include:
Acute respiratory failure is a potentially fatal condition that can occur when something impairs your ability to breathe or directly affects your lungs. This prevents a sufficient amount of oxygen from reaching the rest of the body.
Sniffing glue and other inhalants — especially those that include the solvents toluene and naphthalene — can damage the myelin sheath, the thin covering around the nerve fibers in the brain and the rest of your nervous system. This damage can cause long-term harm to brain function, causing neurological problems similar to those seen with multiple sclerosis.
- chemical odor on clothes and breath
- glue-sniffer’s rash — a rash around the mouth that extends to the middle of the face
- nausea and vomiting
- abdominal pain
- mood swings and belligerence
- appearing intoxicated
- decline in thinking skills, concentration, and decision-making ability
- loss of interest in normal activities
- damage to personal relationships
- tingling in hands and feet
- loss of coordination
- hearing loss
- impaired judgment
- loss of consciousness
The following includes some of the more serious risks and dangers of sniffing glue.
Sniffing glue is one of the more dangerous forms of getting a high, with several life-threatening side effects and many short- and long-term health consequences. Find out how sniffing glue affects your brain and the rest of your body. We’ll also review treatment that can help you recover from an inhalant addiction.