Trying to find out about huffing chemicals

I don’t know if this is the right place to ask this question, but I’m desperate
I am hoping someone can give me some advice. I have a 15 year old stepson and I think that he may be inhaling fumes from aerosol’s. I went into his room tonight and his pupils were very dialated. He denied any wrong doing, but did say that he was bored and was spraying some bug spray on a school binder and lighting it with a lighter.

I don’t know as much about this as I probably should, this is just something I never saw coming and it has really caught me off guard. The reason I feel that he may be inhaling things is because a few weeks ago I had this horrible smell of something like paint thinner in my bathroom and never could find where it was coming from, I’m the only one who uses this bathroom and thought that was quiet odd. So, since then I’ve have really been watching for any signs.

I know this can kill and is sooo dangerous. I am contacting the school and doctor tomorrow, it’s just that I’m sitting here blown away at this and don’t have anywhere to turn. He won’t admit any wrongdoing and I don’t know exactly how to handle this. Does anyone know if these chemicals would show up in bloodwork if I have it done? I don’t know if this is something that just started or how long he has been doing it, it could be new to him or maybe been going on for awhile and he needs rehab, I am willing to do whatever it takes.

What if it will not admit it, do I just flat out tell him that I know he is doing it? What do I do? Please any advice would be greatly appreciated.

THank you in advance


I don’t have the answers that you are looking for. But if it makes you feel any better, I think that you are absolutely doing the right thing and are to be commended.

Can you find out from an emergency room or a drug treatment center if this would show up in a blood test? I would take the child to a doctor immediately and confront him there so that he will know how seriously you take this.

The brother of one of my students died this way. It has to stop NOW.

Bless you. Keep in touch.

To the best of my knowledge, inhalants can’t be detected by drug tests, blood, urine or otherwise. (Technically, they would be detectable by some sensitive, sophisticated tests, but few hospitals would have the ability to run such a test.)

Dilated pupils are a common effect of inhalant abuse, though there are many other drugs that can cause dilated pupils. If you’re smelling strange, solvent-like odors, then I’d say inhalant abuse is a strong possibility, especially with the bug spray excuse. You may be able to smell the same solvent-like smell on his breath.

As you probably know, inhalant abuse can be immediately fatal, and hundreds of people – most of them young – have died this way. From a health perspective, inhalants are considered the most dangerous and harmful of all drugs. The ‘high’ they create is almost literally the sensation of deprivation of oxygen to the brain and the death of brain cells.

Of course there’s no way of knowing how long this has been going on, but I think the evidence would be clear to a parent, so it may be new. (Or perhaps not; the average age of a first-time inhalant abuser is 13.) Since there are so many aerosol products and solvents which can potentially be abused, I would imagine that inhalant abusers generally ‘experiment’ with different products, trying to find which are most effective – which makes inhalant abuse all that much more dangerous. You probably have too many abusable products to keep track of – aerosol sprays (everything from disinfectant to bug spray and spray paint), paint thinner, acetone and even gasoline. The inhalant of choice for many chronic abusers (including an unfortunate homeless person who used to live near my college) is toluene, the solvent used in model glue.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how you could best help your stepson. Calling a doctor is probably the best first step. I think it’s best for him to admit what he’s been doing in a positive, supportive environment, rather than a threatening and hostile one, and a medical professional present might help make it easier on him. He’s still too young, I think, to fully understand his actions and their consequences, so blame and anger won’t help him. Many young people who abuse drugs, particularly inhalants, do so to fit in socially or to escape reality (problems at school, for example). Frightening him with the dangers of inhalants won’t work – he needs to understand what led him to try it, and needs strong, encouraging reasons to stop.

With your support and the support of others around him – including some professional assistance – I think he should be able to recover. I hope you can help him realize he doesn’t need these dangerous chemicals to be happy and successful.

I don’t think its a good idea to contact the school,inhalant abuse is not something nice to have on a record.

Why not just talk to him?
Just let him know how bad organic solvents are.
Thats one of the problems of “drug education”,they focus on relatively harmless illegal substances while glossing over very dangerous legal substances.

And at least the users i’ve known,computer duster is the most popular,i’ve never heard of someone using a product with insecticide in it since that seems almost suicidal.

plastic bags are often used to contain the fumes while breathing. I would search his room while he was out

I used to work in drug rehab, so I have some little knowledge of this sort of thing, but do wish to caution I am not a doctor.

First of all - no, inhalants will not show up in most drug tests. There are tests that can detect just about anything in the body, but they are slow and expensive.

I’d say the circumstances are highly suspicious. If he is using, you can’t trust him to tell you - abusers and addicts lie.

You can remove all the aerosols from your home, reduce the temptations - but you can’t eliminate them. There are too many substances that can be used for this purpose, and most of them are available to any kid with a few bucks.

If he is using he needs drug treatment with a group focusing on inhalant abuse - putting him in with pot-smokers, pill-poppers, or opiate users is less likely to be effective. Yes, addiction is addiction, but because inhalants are so ubiquitous, and so legal because of their legitimate purposes, he’s going to have to learn to resist temptation in a way that users of illegal drugs don’t. A heroin addict has to go to considerable trouble to get a dose - a huffer just has to walk into a local conveience store and he sees little cans of tickets-to-paradise lined up for sale.

There is drug abuse counseling in your area - contact a few places, ask them about groups specializing in huffing. Talk to those folks, they’re the ones with the answers you’re looking for. The average family doctor does NOT have a lot of expertise in this area.

Good luck.

I really appreciate your responses. I did call the principal today at school to get him to check my step-son’s locker to see if there is anything in it that he could be inhaling. He promised that he would keep it confidential as not to embarrass him at this point. He is going to give me some phone numbers where I may be able to get help for him if he is huffing. I searched his room today and found a couple cigarette lighters which were empty and about 500 wooden matches, which I have no idea where he got them. I also found a bottle of the liquid pledge orange cleaner, which he doesn’t clean much that I know of. There were probably 50 paper towels in the trash can along with some matches that had been lit.

Does anyone know if kids now burn the things that they sniff? I’ve looked on the internet and can’t find any information about this. I would really love to know if anyone knows anything about burning spray from aerosol cans or liquid cleaners, this just has me so baffled as to what the matches are for. He doesn’t smoke, I guess the lighters are for inhaling the gases out of it.

What do you do when he flat out denies that he is doing this and crying while doing so? I feel pretty certain that he is doing something, but it’s nothing that I can prove at this point. I’ve taken the first step by contacting the principal and am going to call the numbers that he gave me for help.

Thanks again everyone, you’ve have helped me more than I can tell you


Is it possible that he’s not huffing, but is a budding firebug?

Incidentally, even a modest exposure to many bug sprays will cause pupillary dilation. Such exposure can be a cumulative hazard even if it lacks the haughty moralistic overtones of “he’s getting high”

I would absolutely urge you to lock up the bug spray, and only use it according to the strict directions. You should be doing that anyway

Do the paper towels reek of pledge?
One method is to spray the towel and then inhale through it.

Yep,the lighters contain butane.
Burning would get rid of the inhalant,so not much point to that.

Dunno if you have seen this site but it has a lot of info :

Oh and about the matches,well the only thing i can think of that would need 500 is to use the heads to make homemade M-80s.
But that was just me:D .

Maybe he is using the sulfer smell of the matches to try and mask the chemical smell of the inhalents?

What does his father think about all of this? Can you enlist his help in speaking with your stepson?

tell his dad and then tell the stepson that huffing WILL KILL HIM.

Methinks Qadgop might have some useful input on the social front.

You are right to be as concerned as you are. I have no advice beyond what has already been said. Good luck.

I think your best approach is to speak to him without turning it into a lecture or shouting. Just tell him what you suspect and show that you are genuinley concerned and see if he is willing to talk. A common way of inhaling aerosols is to take the spray nozzle off and put a towel over the top and suck it between your teeth, this may explain the paper towels (although usually it would be material) but it sounds unlikely as they would probabley break instantley. A word of warning though, in Britain at least, more people (usually teenagers) die this way than people overdose on heroin. Incidentally i’d say that although its not garanteed, it is quite likely that this could be the starting point of moving on to other drugs. If you could speak to him now maybe you could save him from going down that route, but I must stress that from my own experience shouting and blowing your top will probabley alienate him from you, better to stay calm and talk reasonabley not rant hysterically.

I’ve nothing to add beyond what’s already been said here. Non-angry communication is your best approach.

Good luck.

I’ve never heard of burning having anything to do with inhalant abuse – it would be pretty counterproductive since burning the solvents would destroy most of the volatile organics, which are what inhalant abusers are trying to inhale. Inhaling burned solvents would be a pretty nasty experience, since the burning would make the solvent smell much worse and the burned solvent fumes would sting and burn the eyes, nose, and throat.

He may just be making “blowtorches” by lighting the spray from the various aerosol cans you’ve found; a lot of teenage boys like to do that. Although that wouldn’t explain the dilated pupils unless he was inadvertently inhaling the fumes from his pyromaniacal experiments … or unless he had the lights in the room turned off or dimmed to make the flames more spectacular.

You should definitely find out what exactly he’s doing and get him to stop. If he won’t tell you, there’s always the option of surveillance – these days you can buy tiny wireless cameras pretty cheaply. It may seem like a terrible invasion of your son’s privacy, and you may learn things you didn’t want to know about your son’s private habits, but it seems better to me than having him asphyxiate on toluene fumes, or having him burn down the house.

I have known 2 teenagers who abused inhalants. One of them, the key sign was that whenever we had Ready-Whip or Cheez-Whiz, he would always “finish them off” alone at night. I mention this just to emphasize how commonplace some of these inahlants are. His parents didn’t address this until later, more serious problems with addiction came to the fore.

Another was a lovely young lady who had just finished high school. She and a friend were inhaling propane in a car, and afterwards decided to light a cigarette. The propane in the enclosed space of the car ignited and exploded. They were both very seriously burned (faces completely burned, lung damage, etc) and she died a few weeks later of complications.

So even considering the possibility he isn’t getting high, his behavior is dangerous and you are doing the right thing to take quick, decisive action.

Ready-Whip, a brand of whipped cream, is usually pressurized with nitrous oxide, which isn’t nearly as dangerous as most other inhalants, since it’s a dissociative anesthetic with legitimate medical applications rather than a volatile organic propellant, which are essentially just poisons.

(I don’t mean to say that inhaling nitrous oxide from whipped cream cans is a legitimate medical application, of course; I’m just saying that it’s not as bad as most inhalants, because people can be safely given nitrous oxide by a medical professional, but as far as I know propane, butane, toluene, etc. are never supposed to be inhaled.)

Anyway – nitrous oxide is safer than normal inhalant abuse, but that’s not to say it’s safe. Serious N[sub]2[/sub]O abuse can interfere with various metabolic processes, leading to numbness in extremities, inability to control bowels and bladder, and other rather inconvenient medical problems. Fortunately that’s the kind of extremely heavy abuse that isn’t really plausible with whipped cream cans, but even so.

In my experience (I’ve seen quite a few people inhaling the nitrous oxide from whipped cream cans over the years – never saw the appeal, myself, because when I got nitrous oxide at the dentist it made me feel sick and dizzy) the most serious danger of inhaling propellant from whipped cream cans is the one that probably sounds the most ridiculous: the flow of gas will often be suddenly interrupted by big globs of whipped cream coming out of the nozzle, even if the can is being held upright (which is supposed to prevent whipped cream from coming out, since it’s meant to be held upside-down so the whipped cream can be squirted out onto food), and people who are inhaling the gas coming out of the nozzle can suddenly find themselves with a trachea full of whipped cream. Usually it’s not that big a deal, but if you’re heavily intoxicated you might pass out and choke and die before you can clear your airway.

So if none of the other warnings scare you away from nitrous oxide … think of how stupid it would be to whipped-cream yourself to death.

Suspicious, but familiar.

I never abused solvents (or any other drugs) at that age. And I was the one spraying aerosol deodorant and mom’s hairspray on stuff and lighting it. Not anything scary like arson, more like pyrotechnics. A step below fireworks, I guess.
Doesn’t explain the dilated pupils, though.

I once knew a guy who took the “can of air” compressed gas computer cleaner spray bottles and would spray the contents into the rolled-up sleeve of his sweatshirt. No reside or paraphernalia. If you see a couple of empty cans, he might have moved to advanced techniques.

My husband came home from work this evening and noticed that my step-son’s eyes were dialted somewhat and also a distinct odor in his room that he couldn’t pinpoint, so he took him the the ER and had him tested and was told that he was clean. His liver enzymes weren’t elevated. I still am not going to blow this off, thinking back, over the last few weeks I can think of at least 4 times that I’ve came into the house and it smelled of some kind of chemical or spray, I don’t know what it was.

If this is something that he’s just started in the last few weeks, he may not have done enough to elevate his liver enzymes.

Maybe he’s just likes playing with fire, who knows, we have talked to him about the dangers of huffing and he swears that he isn’t, this is just to serious to take him at his word. I’ve put up all the things that I think that he could huff, but being 15 and in school, I’m sure it’s not that hard to get thinks to inhale when there are potentially 1000’s of items that contain chemicals or substances to get that quick high.

Thanks again