One In Five US Children
Will Try Inhalants
Dr David Whitehouse
By BBC News
Online Science Editor
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - About 20% of American children will try inhalants before the eighth grade, estimates the lead author of two recently published studies on inhalant abuse among children.
Inhaling the fumes of common household products has become an increasingly popular way for young people to experience a brief high.
Common household products " such as air freshener, spray paint, typewriter correction fluid and colored markers " can be inhaled. Most inhalants create a brief dizzying rush. Side effects include hallucinations, convulsions, violent behavior, and loss of consciousness.
But the habit, known as "huffing'', "sniffing'', or ''wanging'', can also lead to permanent brain, liver and kidney damage, or to sudden death due to cardiac arrest.
"No one really knows why the trend is increasing, but the use rates have almost doubled in the last 20 years,'' Dr. Matthew Owen Howard, an assistant professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, said in an interview with Reuters Health.
His two studies, published recently in the journals Addiction, and Addictive Behaviors, provide a profile of someone who is more apt to abuse inhalants.
"Both studies found that inhalant abusers had more early aggressive and delinquent conduct and greater tendencies to have thought about and perhaps tried to commit suicide,'' Howard said in a press release. "Inhalant abusers also tended to be more involved in substance-related criminal activity and gang membership.''
One study, published in the journal Addiction, looked at 224 Native Americans in fifth and sixth grade living in urban Seattle. Participants completed questionnaires on substance use, ethnic self-identity, involvement in traditional Indian activities, family conflict, family history of alcoholism, peer and sibling deviance, self-esteem, delinquency, aggression, anxiety, depression, sensation-seeking conduct disorder, and alcohol dependence.
The study found that 12.3% of adolescents reported using inhalants sometime in their lives. Inhalant use was associated with lower perceived self-worth, aggression and delinquent conduct, lower household incomes, and a family history of alcoholism.
"As with other studies of inhalant abuse, aggressive and delinquent males of low socioeconomic status, and low-perceived self-worth with family histories of alcohol dependence, were at highest risk for inhalant use,'' conclude Howard and colleagues.
The second study included 475 young people on probation in Utah who met with an interviewer and filled out a questionnaire to determine family support and cohesiveness, parental interest and involvement in school activities, school performance, suicide attempts, gang activity, substance abuse, and criminal activity.
Slightly more than 34% of these children reported that they had used inhalants.
According to Howard and colleague Jeffery M. Jenson with the School of Social Work at the University of Iowa, inhalant abuse correlated with "greater antisocial attitudes, personal and familial dysfunction, and substance abuse than do their non-inhalant using counterparts.''
The use of inhalants to produce a brief high is not new, but recent reports suggest that the use of inhalants among children is increasing, particularly among 10 to 12 year olds. Howard blames this trend on the ease with which children can obtain inhalants compared with alcohol or drugs.
SOURCE: Addiction 1999;94:83-95; Addictive Behaviors 1999;24:59-74.