A Guide to Preventing Inhalant Abuse

Information from the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition of Austin, Texas


They are all over your camp site. They are in your camper cabins and assembly areas. In fact, you probably have them delivered to camp with every order you place with camp vendors. Educate yourself. Find out about inhalants before your campers do.

Many adults are in the dark concerning the popularity and danger of inhalant use. But youth are quickly discovering that common household products are inexpensive to obtain, easy to hide, easily available, and are an easy way to get "high."

Inhalant Abuse Can Kill

It can kill suddenly, and it can kill those who sniff for the first time.

Every year, young people in this country die of inhalant abuse. Hundreds also suffer severe consequences, including permanent brain damage, loss of muscle control, and destruction of the heart, blood, kidney, liver, and bone marrow.

Today more than 1,000 different products are commonly abused. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported in 1996 that one in five American teenagers have used inhalants to get high.

Many youngsters say they begin sniffing when they are in grade school. They start because they feel these substances can't hurt them, because of peer pressure, or because of low self-esteem. Once hooked, these victims find it tough to break the habit.

What is inhalant abuse?

Inhalant abuse is the deliberate inhalation or sniffing of common products found in homes, camps, and schools to obtain a "high." You are familiar with many of these substances — paint, glue, aerosols, typewriter correction fluid, air-conditioning refrigerant, felt tip markers, spray paint, air fresheners, and even cooking spray.

Who is at risk?

Inhalants are an equal-opportunity method of substance abuse. Statistics show that young, white males have the highest usage rates. Hispanic and American Indian populations also show high rates of use.

What do inhalants do to the body?

Nearly all abuse products produce effects similar to anesthetics which slow down the body's function. The user may experience slight stimulation, feeling of less inhibition, or loss of consciousness. The user can also suffer from Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome. This means the user can die the first, tenth, or hundredth time he or she uses an inhalant. Inhalants are physically and psychologically addicting and users suffer withdrawal symptoms.

How can you tell if a young person is an inhalant abuser?

If someone is an abuser, some or all of these symptoms may be evident:

  • unusual breath odor or chemical odor on clothing
  • slurred or disoriented speech
  • drunk, dazed, or dizzy appearance
  • signs of paint or other products where they wouldn't normally be, such as on the face
    or fingers
  • red or runny eyes or nose
  • spots and/or sores around the mouth
  • nausea and/or loss of appetite
  • exhibiting such symptoms as anxiety, excitability, irritability, or restlessness

What could be other telltale behaviors of inhalant abuse?

Inhalant abusers may also exhibit the following signs:

  • sitting with a pen or marker near nose
  • constantly smelling clothing sleeves
  • hiding rags, clothes, or empty containers
    of the potentially abused products in their personal belongings

What steps should camps take to prevent inhalant abuse?

  • Train staff to be aware of the potential problems and be on the lookout for signs of abuse.
  • Contact the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition. Phone them at 800-269-4237. Ask for brochures and information to use in staff training or camper awareness programs.

Be aware that only 4 percent of parents believe their child has abused inhalants. However, self-reporting statistics from teens indicate that at least 20 percent have abused inhalants by the time they finish high school.


Originally published in the 1999 Winter issue of The CampLine.

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