How to Approach Your Child Who Is Abusing Inhalants

Contributor: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, Special Projects Coordinator at Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope

handmade-791693_640Children in our society today are facing unprecedented pressures in many forms, often from outside sources, such as peers, social media, cultural messages, and more. With the accessibility of drugs in addition to other environmental and biological factors, it comes as no surprise the more children are experimenting with drugs, including tobacco and alcohol.

According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, teen users are at significantly higher risk for developing an addictive disorder compared to adults, and the earlier they began using, the higher their risk1.

In addition, nine out of ten people who met the clinical criteria for substance abuse disorders began smoking, drinking, or using other drugs before the age of eighteen1.

The Hidden Danger of Inhalants

One category of substances that tends to go under the radar among children is inhalants. Inhalants are volatile substances that produce chemical vapors. More than 1,000 household products can be abused an inhalants, including glue, shoe polish, paint, nail polish removers, aerosol sprays, cleaning fluids and more.

Children who abuse inhalants sniff or “huff” the chemical vapors from these substances to induce a psychoactive or mind-altering effects. Inhalant abuse may be common among children and adolescent because of accessibility and ease in obtaining these products. Everyday household products are also inexpensive, which adds to the ease in which children can obtain them for inhalant uses.

Misconceptions About Inhalants

bus-stop-72171_640Many misconceptions surround the idea of inhalants, and there may even be denial that the use of inhalants to get a “high” is a substance abuse problem. The reality is that inhalant abuse can lead to many complicated medical problems, including loss of consciousness, damage to the heart, brain, kidneys, liver and other organs.

There is also the possibility that a user may suffer with Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome, fatality that results from inhalant abuse. This can occur at any time that an individual chooses to abuse inhalants. Many of the consequences that result from inhalant abuse are irreversible and cannot be easily repaired.

Early Intervention on Abuse

Children who turn to inhalants may do so for various reasons, and early intervention is key to treatment. Parents can play an important role in prevention, intervention, and treatment, and this begins with awareness of the issue. Understanding the risks, signs, and symptoms of inhalant abuse, as well as knowing how to have a discussion with your child about inhalant use can all be helpful in preventing inhalant use.

What if you are the parent of a child who has been abusing inhalants? It can be difficult to process what this might mean as well as know the most effective way to respond. If you suspect that your child is abusing inhalants, it is important to approach them in a manner that communicates love and concern.

teenager-445433_640Having a conversation with you child in a safe environment, sharing your concerns in an attentive and caring tone, and working with your child to help them understand the seriousness of the issue can be instrumental in helping your child move forward from inhalant abuse.

Getting Professionals to Help You and Your Child

If you are unsure about how to approach your child about their inhalant abuse, reach out to professionals for support. Inhalant abuse, especially among children, is a dangerous behavior that cannot be ignored.

A professional who specializes in addiction, such as a medical doctor, therapist or counselor, can offer you guidance on how to intervene with inhalant abuse and lead your child to the appropriate help and care they need. Being able to communicate your concern in a loving way can serve as the intervention your child needs to stop abusing inhalants and support healthier behaviors.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Are you the parent of a child you has abused inhalants? What methods or approaches did you find helpful in addressing these concerning behaviors? What encouragement might you offer to other parents who may be in a similar situation with their own children?


  1. “Adolescent Substance Abuse: America’s #1 Public Health Problem,” National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, June 2011,

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on July 31st, 2015
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