How to Get Help for Someone Abusing Inhalants

Three Parts:Getting HelpDealing with an EmergencyRecognizing the Signs

Inhalants offer a quick, easy high – they’re also incredibly dangerous and can kill within minutes. People who huff inhalants risk severe organ and brain damage, coma, and death.[1] If you suspect that someone is using inhalants, learn the signs, try to offer help, and know how to act in an emergency. You could save a life.

Part 1
Getting Help

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    Talk to loved ones and children ahead of time. One of the easiest ways that you can help someone is to prevent any inhalant abuse in the first place. Be proactive with your children, for example, and warn them about the dangers of huffing. They should know just how dangerous these substances are.[2]
    • Include inhalants when you talk to children and loved ones about drug abuse in general, along with drugs, tobacco, and alcohol. Inhalants are chemicals but can have drug-like effects.
    • Let your kids know that inhalants can kill them suddenly, quickly, and easily. In fact, 22% of all deaths occur to people inhaling for the first time.[3] In addition, tell them that huffing can cause damage to the lungs, liver, and brain.
    • Model the proper use of chemicals for your children, too. Teach them that these are poisons and have to be handled with care.
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    Seek professional advice. If you think that a child, teen, or someone else you know is using inhalants, seek professional help. An expert can fill you in on the possible symptoms and effects of inhalant abuse as well as suggest options for getting your loved one treatment.[4]
    • Try calling the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition at 1-800-269-4237. They can tell you what services might be available in your area.
    • You might also try the National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Service or the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information at 1-800-662-HELP and 1-800-729-6686, respectively.
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    Try to locate a treatment center yourself. Another option is to look for a treatment facility on your own, in your neighborhood. Inhalant abuse doesn’t always respond well to treatment, but it is always better to take action. Try the internet or make telephone and personal inquiries.[5]
    • If you are looking online, try the US government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website. Search for their treatment facility locator function.[6]
    • Call or visit other mental health and rehab facilities in your area to see whether they are able to treat inhalant abuse. Not all centers can, due to the high rates of relapse and the long period needed for detox (30 days or more).
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    Stage an intervention. You can also consider holding an intervention, for a child, teen, or older user. You’ll want to be pretty positive that the person is abusing inhalants before taking this step. However, interventions are effective at making drug users own up to the effects of their use on friends and family. They can be a first step in getting treatment.[7]
    • First of all, get a group of people together who will participate. This might only be parents or siblings in case of a child or teen. You might want friends or other loved ones if the huffer is older.
    • Formulate a treatment plan. You should have a clear action plan ready when you intervene, such as having the person go to rehab, get therapy, or start an outpatient addiction program.
    • For older users, you should also be ready to present clear consequences for refusal. This may be difficult, but it can force the user to see that loved ones will no longer enable the behavior. You may not need such consequences if the inhalant abuser is your child or teen, however.
    • Finally, hold a meeting and confront the user, lovingly but firmly. You can bring prepared statements, if you like, or even have an intervention specialist on hand. A lot depends on the user and the user’s situation.

Part 2
Dealing with an Emergency

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    Stay calm. If you ever find someone huffing and in a state of crisis, you should above all stay calm. Try to make sure that the user remains conscious and gets help as soon as possible. Above all, do not panic.[8]
    • Someone who is high on inhalants usually appears drunk or in a stupor, with slurred speech and disorientation. The pupils may also be dilated.[9]
    • Inhalant abusers can also show exhaustion and an inability to focus. Since the chemicals impair judgement, they may engage in risky or irresponsible behavior.
    • Other signals that someone is having an emergency due to inhalant use include seizures, unconsciousness, coma, or cardiac arrest.
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    Try not to get agitated. Strange as it may seem, stress and activity can pose a very real danger to huffers and can even cause sudden death – this is called Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome. Try as much as you can to stay calm and ensure that the inhalant user remains calm. Watch for signs of physical agitation and prevent them.[10]
    • Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome can be induced by stress, agitation, and activity and can lead a huffer to have hallucinations, become violent, or even go into cardiac arrest. Avoid loud or sudden reactions.
    • Do not excite, abuse, or yell at someone who has been huffing. Instead, talk to them gently and try to find out what kind of chemicals are present. Look for clues: rags, bottles, or spray cans.
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    Give the huffer air. Make sure that someone who is an huffing-induced crisis has access to fresh air. Inhalants are breathed in and enter the bloodstream through the lungs, affecting the brain. It is therefore important to remove a user from the chemicals, so that they can exit the body as quickly as possible.[11]
    • If the person is conscious, move into a well-ventilated room and keep calm until help arrives.
    • If unconscious and unresponsive, turn the person on his or her side and wait there until help arrives. This position will allow the huffer to breathe and prevent suffocation in case of vomiting.[12]
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    Call for help. Whether or not the user is conscious and responsive, you should get help in an emergency situation. Inhalant use is very dangerous and can lead to violent reactions and sudden death. Don’t hesitate to call emergency services.[13]
    • In case the user is unconscious, unresponsive, having seizures, or not breathing, call 911 as soon as you can. If the user is conscious, consider calling Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.
    • You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK. The hotline doesn’t just cover suicide and can put you in touch with some nearby to help you.[14]

Part 3
Recognizing the Signs

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    Look for strange behavior. To help someone who is using inhalants, you should ideally recognize the signs as soon as possible. Huffing can cause all sorts of behavioral changes that may be giveaways. Keep on the lookout for these – they may be obvious or subtle.[15]
    • Does the person show general signs of possible drug abuse, for example, like falling grades, changes in friends or grooming, or unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite?
    • Does the person sometimes seem dazed, dizzy, or confused? Inhalant users will show physical signs resembling drunkenness. Chronic huffers may also be nervous, agitated, excitable, and restless.
    • Have you ever seen the person sitting with a pen or marker near the nose? Or, perhaps the person frequently smells a clothing sleeve? These are giveaways, as well.
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    Note odd smells and stains. Look for traces of inhalant use, too, if you suspect that someone you know is using. The habit often leaves smells and stains either on huffers’ clothing or on their bodies. Note any strange signs there, too.[16]
    • Pay close attention to the person’s clothing. Do you smell anything strange, particularly the scent of chemicals? Do you see smudges of ink, paint, or other products on the person’s face, hands, or clothing?
    • Be aware of the person’s breath, too: peculiar bad breath can be a sign that someone is using inhalants.
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    Pay attention to appearance. Apart from behavior, smell, and stains, take notice of the person’s physical appearance. Huffing can show itself in the face and eyes, for instance. You might also find clues in the person’s general state of health.[17]
    • Does the person frequently have or complain of a sore throat or mouth? Does he or she have a chronically runny nose and cough? The chemicals in inhalants irritate these parts of the body.
    • Huffers may also have watery, glazed, or runny eyes with dilated pupils.
    • Look for blisters or sores around the mouth, too, as well as facial rashes. All of these are caused by exposure to chemicals.[18]
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    Beware of missing cleaning products, rags, paint, and other chemicals. You may be able to confirm that someone is using inhalants by tracing the substances – the chemicals themselves. This is easier if you live with the possible huffer. Watch over the chemicals in your house, including paints, markers, aerosols, nail polish, propane, and others. Note anything that goes missing.[19]
    • Ask yourself if certain chemicals seem to be running low or are being used too quickly. Also note if chemicals go missing.
    • Have you ever found stashes of empty cans, used rags, or plastic bags? This is another telltale sign of inhalant abuse.[20]

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Categories: Drug Addictions