Inhalants as a Gateway Drug among Teens

Parents that are concerned about their teens’ risky behavior may not be aware of all the temptations out there, or the young age at which many adolescents are exposed to them. Inhalants are growing in popularity among youngsters as young as 12 as a way to get high. Many experts believe that parents need to be educated on this epidemic if we are going to keep it from getting worse.

The National Inhalant Prevention’s Coalition held a news conference earlier this year that revealed an increase in inhalant use among 12 and 13 year olds, and that many of these teens and pre-teens go on to do more illicit drugs as they get older.

Why Inhalants

Peer pressure occurs at almost every age, but the teen years are filled with the most negative peer pressure. Pair that with lack of supervision because parents are working more, and you have teens trying all sorts of risky behavior to keep themselves busy. Inhalants are readily available to kids, and often young people don’t see inhaling these household substances as being harmful because these things are legal and found everywhere. Anything from glue and paint to shoe polish and aerosol sprays can and are being used by people to get high.

Types of Inhalants

There are four main types of inhalants: volatile solvents (paint thinners, felt tip markers), aerosol sprays (spray paint, deodorant), gases (propane tanks, whip cream dispensers), and nitrites (room deodorizers). Teens use these inhalants by sniffing, snorting, or inhaling from a bag. The high will usually be short-lived, which leads a teen to inhale again and again to keep up the good feeling. These inhalants can be very addictive also, leading the individual down a long road of destructive behavior.


Most inhalants result in a tired feeling, dizziness, hallucinations, or trouble with motor skills – all things that teens might find entertaining to observe. Over time, however, inhalants can lead to brain damage, muscle weakness, and depression. The dangers are very real, and can occur even with first time users. Sudden death can occur through heart attack, suffocating, or choking, and injuries may occur from careless acts while under the influence.

As the study by the National Inhalant Prevention’s Coalition showed, many teens that use inhalants go on to do other drugs, sometimes in an effort to get a better high. Once a teen is used to the thrill of doing “harmless” inhalant drugs, they might look for more of a challenge with street drugs.

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Parents: Be Aware

Many parents have shown a disconnect from their children through the attitude that their children is not at risk for this kind of behavior. Even parents that are relatively cautious about what trouble their child could get into may not be aware of how common this abuse of inhalants is. It is important for parents to know what their child is doing when they are alone or with friends, and special care should be taken to monitor the inhalants in the house and garage. If you are a parent that thinks your child may be using inhalants, don’t hesitate to get help for them.