Straight Talk Advice

May 27, 2014

Eighth-grade brother “huffing” inhalants

Dear Straight Talk: I'm 10 and my big brother is in eighth grade. He used to be so much fun and I looked up to him. Now I've spied him stealing money from our mother's purse and sniffing from chemicals in our garage. I don't want to get him in trouble but he has become a complete idiot since he's got these two new friends. He hardly talks to me anymore. Our parents are divorced and our mom works very hard and doesn't notice how much he has changed. What should I do? —James, Woodland, Calif.

Gregg 23, Los Angeles Ask me a question

TELL BOTH YOUR PARENTS ASAP! Tell them about the inhalants, that he's stealing from your mom — I guarantee to buy cigarettes or other drugs — and that his two friends are scumbags. If you think he's an idiot, it's because he is an idiot. Your parents need to step in. Stand by what you say and tell them even though you are scared. Huffing is disgusting. My friends and I did some bad stuff, but huffing is gross, it's trashy, it's unknown chemicals poisoning the brain. It's probably why he's an idiot! You sound strong. Stop protecting your brother. Tell on him!!

Aleck 18, Bellevue, Wash. Ask me a question

All drugs alter brain chemistry but the “high” from inhalants is your brain and body being poisoned. Inhalants are stupid and make you stupid. I first thought doing Whip-Its from whipped cream cans was harmless, but people have died from it and I could feel my brain becoming dull and flat. You HAVE to tell your parents. He could die instantly.

Moriah 17, Rutland, Vt. Ask me a question

Tell your mom or an adult you trust. Siblings always notice things first and telling will get your brother help before your parents finally do notice, which could be too late.

Breele 20, Dana Point, Calif. Ask me a question

Two friends with lots of childhood trauma told me they used to sniff glue, spray paint, etc. They said that of all the drugs they ever did, huffing was the stupidest and most damaging. Your brother is looking for an escape with whatever he can get his hands on. I have older siblings, too, who I love and admire. Telling on him is showing your love. He'll be mad, but he'll know you care that much. His friends do sound like a bad influence. That said, they are young and this is a beautiful moment to stop them all from going down the rabbit hole. Show your mom this column.

Mom: Tell the other boys' parents. And tell the boys that if they don't all stop this behavior your son cannot see them anymore. Speak to your son like an adult, giving this and other consequences.

Ashley 26, Auburn, Calif. Ask me a question

You absolutely MUST tell your parents ASAP! Your brother might get mad but it won't last long. Telling your mom is brave and wise and could save his life!  (Ask her to not reveal you as the source.) Inhaling chemicals is extremely bad. It causes brain problems and leads to other drugs.

Dear James: Yes, you must blow the whistle. The younger kids start drugs, the more likely they do go down the rabbit hole to long-term drug dependency. Show your mom and dad this column immediately.

To your parents: Your son is in deep water. Immediately contact a trained rehab counselor who will work with your family uncovering root causes of drug use and teach positive ways to handle stress and trauma — while getting him clean. Do not delay! Inhalants cause brain, organ and nerve damage. “Sudden sniffing death” can happen at any time.

Readers: For more on inhalants, including warning signs, see below.

Editor's Note: After researching how many children are using inhalants I needed some fresh air. Hopefully, this wakes everyone up. According to the Inhalant Abuse Prevention website at

• Over 2.6 million children, aged 12–17, use an inhalant each year to get high.

• 1 in 4 students in America has intentionally abused a common household product to get high by the time they reach eighth grade.

• Inhalants tend to be the drug first tried by children. “Sniffing” and “huffing” can begin at age 10 or younger.

• 59 percent of children are aware of friends huffing at age 12.

• Inhalants are the fourth most-abused substance after alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana.

Deaths are severly under-reported. The National Inhalant Prevention Coalition reports 100 to 125 inhalant-related deaths per year, mostly middle school victims. However, most deaths are attributed to heart attack or stroke.

Inhalants are found in a variety of household products including: spray paint, nail polish remover, whiteout, markers, gasoline, glue, keyboard cleaner, shoe polish, and aerosol sprays 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 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."

Prevention: The number one preventative (beyond tuning in to your child and having created a secure attachment with him/her), is talking to your child about inhalants. I also recommend telling your school you would like them to obtain the Inhalant Abuse Prevention Kit, a electronic presentation kit designed for getting parents on board in recognizing and dealing with the reality of this problem. 

If your child is using ANY drugs — or even "experimenting" (which usually is "using," parents just call it "experimenting" even though it's been going on for years), I can't recommend 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

• 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

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  1. By B.N., age 16, from Sacramento, CA on 05/27/2014

    This week’s column again raises the “should I tell” issue that has been discussed many times in Straight Talk, be it inhalants, drugs, alcohol, cutting, anorexia, threats of suicide or anything else when someone knows that a sibling or friend has a serious problem.  The advice is always the same, that you should tell someone.  Well, in my case, I am not telling on my stepsister whose on drugs, and here’s why:

    I was recently sent to live with my dad and stepmom because my mom was found to be unfit by the court for reasons too long to go into here.  They didn’t really want me, but had no choice.  Because of this, I have to share a room with my stepsister since they only have 3 bedrooms, and my stepmom also has a son who lives with them.  She’s frurious about having to share her room with me after always having her own room and makes me suffer for it.  I can understand her not being happy about it, and I probably wouldn’t be happy either if I were in her position, but I had no choice in the situation and would actually rather still be with my mom even though there were good reasons why I was taken out of her custody.  My stepsister’s a year older than me and very forceful, and constantly abuses me.  I can’t even get undressed without her laughing at my body just because I’m somewhat overweight, and she did the same to my best friend the one time I tried to have her for a sleepover.  Since we only have one bathroom, our stepmom says that we have to share it in the morning since “you’re both girls”  so that there’s time for everyone else, and she even makes fun of me “on the facility” if you know what I mean, which is very humiliating.

    She says I’ll have “Hell to pay” if I tell anybody that she’s using drugs and knowing her, I am sure that she’ll follow through with her threat.  Things are bad enough already, and I’m not going to make things worse for myself.  I figure that if she wants to ruin her life with drugs, it’s her problem, not mine!


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    1. By S.J., age 15, from Petaluma on 05/28/2014

      I agree with B.N. It’ easy to say that someone should tell when you’re not the one who is going to suffer for it.  My sister is a cutter.  She could hide it from everybody else, but couldn’t hide it from me since we share a small room and can’t help seeing each other naked.  She was also being very mean to me and there was no escape since we have to live in the same room.  However, she’s still my sister and I love her and care about her and knew she needed help and also figured that whatever was behind the cutting was also behind her cruelty to me, so I told our mom who made her strip to her bra and thong so that she could see, and she was shocked.  She forced my sister to go to counseling against her will and it didn’t do any good since you can’t force somebody to be helped who won’t accept the help.  It just caused her to treat me even worse, so if I had it to do over I would keep my mouth shut and let it be her problem.


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      1. By F.G., age 17, from Vacaville, CA on 05/29/2014

        I still think you did the right thing.  I’ll bet that deep down your sister wanted you to tell and will ultimately be glad you did.  There are ways to hide your cut marks even when you’re sharing a room.  I was too proud to ask for help and I wanted my sister to tell and was glad when she did.  Since we’re sisters, we’ve never been shy about nudity.  However, we don’t share a room so we don’t actually see each other completely naked very often, and I had to come up with creative reasons to be naked in front of her like asking her opinion about how my shaving and waxing looked, etc.  When she noticed the cutting I told her not to tell our mom even though I really wanted her to and was glad that she did and caused me to get the help I needed.


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  2. By Tom, age 17, from Santa Ana, CA on 05/28/2014

    I really wish my little brother had told on me to our parents about my sniffing since they would have made me get help before things got really bad.  But I threatened to beat him up if he told like I always did about everything bad I did that he knew about and to always get my own way about everything in the room we share.  I never actually had to beat him up because I’m older and much bigger and since he knew I could easily beat him up, just the threat was enough.  My parents finally saw that something was wrong, but only after I was totally messed up and they made me go into rehab.  I’m clean now, but I wish I’d gotten help before things got so bad.  I don’t treat my brother this way anymore, but he still hates me because of the way I treated him and I feel really bad, but I can’t really blame him.  I wish I had been a good big brother to him like some of my friends are to their brothers and wish we could be close like they are, but I’m afraid it’s too late and it’s my fault.


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    1. By LAUREN, from on 05/28/2014

      Dear B.N, S.J. and Tom—These comments are very poignant as to the stress/fear that kids go through, especially especially younger siblings, around the “should I tell” issue. They truly worry about getting treated very badly, in Tom’s case, getting beaten up. Girls can be even meaner and never let up.

      And in your case, S. J., how sad that your sister wasn’t helped. Although I can’t help but think she wasn’t helped somewhere, somehow, it just isn’t apparent yet. You did the right thing by telling. The thing is, how can you sleep at night if you don’t?

      Tom, I’m so sorry you did too good a job of scaring your brother. Keep apologizing and trying to make things up to him. Over time, he will trust that it’s for real and open up to you. I hope anyway. Thanks so much for sharing your powerful story. I hope it gives courage to other young brothers to put fear aside and “tell.”

      To B.N.—Wow, you’ve got a nasty situation there. I would never judge anyone for not telling in your situation. Telling is a lot of work and you have to have some love going on in order to do it. Love is the motivator. Just please be sure to not let the stress of being there turn your head toward drugs. The worst things can be gotten through amazingly well if you DON’T use drugs or alcohol. They just mess things up. Hopefully you’re getting THAT lesson displayed by your stepsister.

      Good luck to all of you. Thank you so much for writing.—Love, Lauren

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  3. By Grandma Granger, age 58, from Archie, MO on 06/03/2014

    After raising 5 boys and one girl I know how scary it can be to face the anger of an older brother. I would suggest that you talk to a teacher or principle at your school about this. They can contact his school who can then alert your parents to the situation.
    This will help to keep your brother from being so angry at you as then he never has to know that you ratted on him.
    I lost a son and I will tell you that if you love your brother and your parents you will do everything in your power to stop this. It may be painful now but it will never be as painful as burying his body in the ground. That you will never get over.
    I wish you luck and I think you are a very strong and loving person to seek this help for him!

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  4. By LAUREN, from on 06/03/2014

    Dear Grandma Granger—I’m so so sorry about your son. Thank you for writing today to share just how serious inhalants—and any downward spiral into drugs is. The sooner the person gets help, the better. I have no doubt that your letter will encourage many young people to step up and get their sibling or friend help. Thank you also for mentioning that they can tell a teacher, principle, or counselor if they want themselves to be anonymous. Much Love to you and Blessings on your son—Lauren

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  5. By Shawna Sellmann, age 20, from Aurora Colorado on 04/17/2015

    My little brother is 15 years old. Whenever he enters the room i smell a strong odor of finger nail polish, or paint thinner, or nail polish remover, and it is only when he comes into the car, or his room or when he is present. MY mom and I have gone through his room, and found nothing. He is acting strange, he hates school, no motivation, weird sleeping habits. Many symptoms of huffing. But I cannot find any proof. Im not sure how to approach him, we’ve scared him about huffing but i think he might be lying.

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  6. By LAUREN, from on 04/17/2015

    Shawna—Unfortunately, there is no drug test for huffing… the chemicals are very diverse and don’t remain in the system for long. Most kids don’t keep huffing very long as the high stops feeling good, but it’s so incredibly dangerous and death can come with almost no warning. It’s really a Russian roulette situation. Too bad snooping didn’t turn up anything….  but it might if you also check his social networking sites and texts.  And yes, he very likely is lying. Drugs lie, period. Really….  your family needs to TRUST YOUR INTUITION completely and thus act with authority. His change in behaviors is very alarming combined with the smell of chemicals.

    Snooping is totally okay, as you seem to know. Equally important is to alert everyone close to you about the issue, extended family, neighbors, all the parents of all his friends, make it public that you are concerned. I would also contact a drug counseling center in your vicinity… many are outpatient and most of the counselors are former users who have a real authority in speaking to kids. Let them know what is going on and ask how they can help. The best approach is to go after this kind of thing with every tool you’ve got, and fast. Please let me know how things go.—Love, Lauren

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