Boy seems to be huffing but won’t admit it
Dear Straight Talk: My little brother is 15. Whenever he enters the room or gets in the car, I smell a strong odor of nail polish, polish remover or paint thinner. My mom and I have gone through his room and found nothing. He's acting strange, hates school, has no motivation and weird sleeping habits, yet I cannot find proof. We've scared him about huffing and he denies it, but he might be lying. How should we approach this? —S., 20, Aurora, Colorado
Editor’s Note: We have a problem Houston. According to the Inhalant Abuse Prevention website:
• 1 in 4 U.S. students has intentionally abused a common household product by eighth grade.
• Inhalants tend to be the drug first tried by kids — age 10 or younger is not uncommon.
• 59% of 12-year-olds are aware of friends huffing.
• Inhalants are the fourth most abused substance after alcohol, tobacco and marijuana.
WARNING SIGNS OF INHALANT ABUSE:
• rash around the nose and mouth
• odor of paint or solvent on clothes, skin or breath
• paint or solvent residues in sweat areas of clothing
• missing, disturbed or lower levels of household chemicals
• your child acts drunk or mentally disturbed
• your child has headaches, nausea, vomiting, slurred speech, loss of motor control, wheezing
• your child displays emotional upset, disrupted sleep patterns, new friends, sudden disinterest in sports or school.
Prevention: The number-one preventative (in addition to being tuned in to your child and having created and maintaining a secure child-parent attachment with him/her), is talking to your child about inhalants. I also recommend asking your school to obtain the Inhalant Abuse Prevention Kit, a electronic presentation designed for getting parents on board to recognize and deal with the reality of this problem.
Boys versus Girls: Knowing you can die from inhalants, or they will lower IQ, will cause a lot of girls to take pause. Most boys, however, seek risk by nature and don't believe the warnings. Risk actually lights up a part of their brain and elevates their social status in the eyes of other boys. Fortunately, boys respond to clear-cut punitive measures, such as taking away privileges — this lights up another part of their brain. They actually LIKE clear-cut authority, with less chitchat about feelings. That said, school or sport teams are not the thing to take away (which often happens, if not, by a parent, by the school through suspensions or being cut). School and sports help a boy. Best is taking away other favorite things like driving privileges, smart phones, video games, special events, etc.
Girls versus Boys: The main reason girls use drugs isn't thrill of risk, it's low self-esteem, stress, and depression. They respond to reason and safety more and their brains are lit up by a warmer, fuzzier, let's talk-about-feelings kind of authority which includes things like being forced to call you from the home phone of wherever they are. (If a boy had to do that, he would be mocked horribly.) And no, warm and fuzzy does not include sharing your own drug use stories — this is counterproductive for either sex child and only undermines your authority. Save these conversations until much, much later when your children are high-functioning adults.
Deaths are severely under-reported. The National Inhalant Prevention Coalition reports 100-125 inhalant-related deaths per year, mostly middle school victims. However, most deaths are attributed to heart attack or stroke, not the cause, which for children is often inhalants.
Inhalants are found in a wide variety of household products including: spray paint, nail polish remover, whiteout, markers, gasoline, glue, air duster for computer cleaning, shoe polish, and aerosols such as whipped cream canisters, hair sprays and frying pan sprays. Inhaling these substances to get high is known as "sniffing" or "huffing."
Inhalation brings these toxins into the blood stream so fast it is equivalent in intensity to shooting up psychoactive drugs. The person can feel drunk, have space/time distortions, hallucinations and mental disturbances. According to the National Institute of Health: "Even inhaling once can disrupt heart rhythms and lower oxygen levels. Either of these can cause death. Regular abuse can result in serious harm to the brain, heart, kidneys, and liver."
If your child is using or experimenting with ANY drugs, I can't recommend weekly rehab counseling enough. It changes kids' lives to be seen, have their family dynamics and traumas seen, and learn how to cope positively. It's generally much more useful than seeing a regular counselor. Best books on the subject: "How to Help your Chlld Become Drug Free" and "Adolescent and Young Adult Addiction," both by Jon Daily. —Lauren