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Are Your Teenagers Huffing?

Updated on June 18, 2013
The Three Little Pigs
The Three Little Pigs

Are Your Teenagers Huffing?

Remember the story of the Three Little Pigs and how the nasty Wolf huffed and puffed while trying to blow their houses down. That is fairy-tale huffing. It’s not real.

Today Huffing is Real.

Huffing is using – no, make that abusing – chemical inhalants to achieve a feeling of euphoria like that of intoxication. And there are thousands of common medical and household products that can be used as inhalants. Why is it so dangerous? Because huffing can lead to addiction, permanent brain damage, organ damage, and sudden death.

Today Huffing is Common.

Huffing and the use of inhalants are common types of abuse. More than 17 million American youngsters have abused inhalants at least once in their lives. By the eighth grade, one in five children – 20% – have experimented with huffing at least once.

Inhalants rank fourth after alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana as the most commonly abused substances used by teenagers in 8th to 12th grade. In fact, Inhalants are one of the few substances younger children abuse more than older children. Long-term abuse of inhalants appears to be most common among male teens.

Types of Inhalants

There are hundreds of legal products found in the average household – your home, too – that your teenagers may use as inhalants. They can be divided into four categories: volatile solvents, aerosols, gases, and nitrates, all of which negatively affect the central nervous system. Here are some examples of deadly inhalants:

Volatile solvents - liquids that vaporize at room temperature:

Gasoline ... Dry cleaning fluid ... Felt tip Markers ... Glue ... Dry cleaning products ... Paint remover ... Paint thinner ... Correcting fluid

Aerosols – sprays containing propellants:

Deoderants ... Hair spray ... Vegetable oil cooking spray ... Spray paint

Gases found in medical, industrial and household products:

Chloroform ... Butane lighters ... Ether


Cyclohexyl nitrate – found in room deodorizers ... Amyl nitrate – medication prescribed for heart pain ... Butyl nitrate – an illegal street drug. Both amyl nitrate and butyl nitrate are often sold on the street and referred to as poppers. They are abused more often by older teens and young adults who believe these inhalants heighten sexual function and sensation.

Methods of Abusing Inhalants

Huffing is only one method of abusing inhalants. When huffing, abusers soak a rag with the inhalant and stuff the rag in their mouths. The inhalant is then inhaled rapidly and repeatedly, hence the term huffing.

Other methods include sniffing or snorting inhalants directly from a container, or spraying aerosols directly into the mouth. Balloons can be filled with gas and inhaled as the balloon deflates. This is a common method for inhaling nitrous oxide.

Bagging refers to inhaling from a paper or plastic bag into which the inhalant has been sprayed.

Why Do Our Teenagers Abuse Inhalants?

Inhalants are absorbed through the lungs and spread throughout the body and brain within minutes. With the exception of nitrates, they produce an effect similar to alcohol intoxication. The abuser may have slurred speech, experience euphoria and act dizzy or drunk. Intoxication from inhalant use lasts only a few minutes. So to prolong intoxication, users engage in repetitive huffing. This is a singularly dangerous practice that can be fatal.

Sudden Sniffing Death

One of the most serious complications associated with inhalant use is sudden sniffing death. Huffing or sniffing inhalants for long periods slowly fills the lungs with the inhalants and prevents the individual from getting sufficient oxygen into the lungs. Result: the sudden onset of heart irregularities which quickly worsen into heart failure.

Sudden sniffing death occurs within minutes. This condition is not confined to chronic inhalant users. Here’s the really scary news: Anyone trying huffing or inhalant use for the first time is just as susceptible to sudden sniffing death as a long-term abuser!

Long Term Effects

I don’t want to scare you, but . . . wait, I do want to scare you because the long term effects are disastrous. If the inhalant abuser doesn’t die as a result of huffing, dusting, sniffing, etc., in some cases such abuse leads to destruction of myelin, a tissue that protects certain nerve fibers. This causes lasting difficulty with motor functions such as walking and speaking. Also possible are loss of hearing and damage to marrow, liver and kidneys.

Why Aren’t Parents More Concerned?

Many parents do not learn about huffing until it is too late. (Read the email below from a father whose son died from dusting.) Common, every-day household products are being used by youngsters and teenagers as inhalants in order to get a short, intense euphoric high. These inhalants are inconspicuous, inexpensive and readily available. Do you question the presence of felt tip markers or Dust-off on the desk in your child’s room?

What Can Parents Do?

STOP . . . LOOK . . . LISTEN . . . EDUCATE.

STOP making excuses to yourself for your teenager’s aberrant behavior – there are numerous negative effects that immediately accompany inhalant abuse. Examples: slurred speech, excessive tiredness, complaints of feeling dizzy, dazed, or light-headed, belligerence, and in some cases, hallucinations.

LOOK for any of these signs if you suspect your child is abusing inhalants:

Chemical odors from breath or clothing or room . . . Hidden empty spray paint or solvent containers . . . Hidden rags soaked with chemicals . . . Irritability, social withdrawal, depression . . . Loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting . . . Weight loss . . . Paint stains on hands, face and clothes . . Red or runny nose . . .Sores and rashes around the mouth and nose . . . Swollen mouth, tongue or lips.

LISTEN and become aware if you hear your teenager use these slang terms for inhalant use and huffing: “amys, boppers, poppers, snappers, dusting, climax, gluey, head cleaner, moon gas, poor man's pot.”

EDUCATE yourself and your children about the dangers of inhalant use. Be clear and firm about your disapproval. Start talking about it when your children are young so they feel comfortable asking you questions. Sometimes parents who may be very knowledgeable about drugs and drug abuse overlook the symptoms of inhalant abusers. They do not notice anything out of the ordinary because these inhalant products are so common and inconspicuous in the home.

Email from Kyle’s Father

“Subject: Dust Off – A deadly drug … A Serious Fatal Hazard

First I’m going to tell you a little about me and my family. My name is Jeff. I am a Police Officer for a city which is known nationwide for its crime rate. We have a lot of gangs and drugs. At one point we were #2 in the nation in homicides per capita. I also have a police K-9 dog named Thor . He was certified in drugs and general duty. He retired at 3 years old because he was shot in the line of duty. He lives with us now and I still train with him because he likes it. I always liked the fact that there was no way to bring drugs into my house. Thor wouldn't allow it. He would tell on you. The reason I say this is so you understand that I know about drugs. I have taught in schools about drugs. My wife asks all our kids at least once a week if they used any drugs. Makes them promise they won't.

I like building computers occasionally and started building a new one in February 2005. I also was working on some of my older computers. They were full of dust so on one of my trips to the computer store I bought a 3 pack of DUST OFF. Dust Off is a can of compressed air to blow dust off a computer. A few weeks later when I went to use them they were all used. I talked to my kids and my 2 sons both said they had used them on their computer and messing around with them. I yelled at them for wasting the 10 dollars I paid for them. On February 28 I went back to the computer store. They didn't have the 3 pack which I had bought on sale so I bought a single jumbo can of Dust Off. I went home and put it beside my computer.

On March 1st I left for work at 10pm. At 11pm my wife went down and kissed Kyle goodnight. At 530am the next morning Kathy went downstairs to wake Kyle up for school before she left for work. He was sitting up in bed with his legs crossed and his head leaning over. She called to him a few times to get up. He didn't move. He would sometimes tease her like this and pretend he fell back asleep. He was never easy to get up. She went in and shook his arm. He fell over. He was pale white and had the straw from the Dust Off can coming out of his mouth. He had the new can of Dust Off in his hands. Kyle was dead.

I am a police officer and I had never heard of this. My wife is a nurse and she had never heard of this. We later found out from the coroner, after the autopsy, that only the propellant from the can of Dust off was in his system. No other drugs. Kyle had died between midnight and 1 am.

I found out that using Dust Off is being done mostly by kids ages 9 through 15. They even have a name for it. It's called dusting. A take off from the Dust Off name. It gives them a slight high for about 10 seconds. It makes them dizzy. A boy who lives down the street from us showed Kyle how to do this about a month before. Kyle showed his best friend. Told him it was cool and it couldn't hurt you. It's just compressed air. It can't hurt you. His best friend said no.

Kyle's death. Kyle was wrong. It's not just compressed air. It also contains a propellant. I think it’s R2. It's a refrigerant like what is used in your refrigerator. It is a heavy gas.-Heavier than air. When you inhale it, it fills your lungs and keeps the good air, with oxygen, out. That's why you feel dizzy, buzzed. It decreases the oxygen to your brain, to your heart. Kyle was right. It can't hurt you. IT KILLS YOU! The horrible part about this is there is no warning. There is no level that kills you. It's not cumulative or an overdose; it can just go randomly, terribly wrong. Roll the dice and if your number comes up you die. IT'S NOT AN OVERDOSE. It's Russian roulette. You don't die later. Or not feel good and say, I've had too much. You usually die as you’re breathing it in. If not, you can die within 2 seconds of finishing "the hit." That's why the straw was still in Kyle's mouth when he died. Why his eyes were still open.

The experts want to call this huffing. The kids don't believe it’s huffing. As adults we tend to lump many things together. But it doesn't fit here. And that's why it's more accepted. There is no chemical reaction. no strong odor. It doesn't follow the huffing signals. Kyle complained a few days before he died of his tongue hurting. It probably did. The propellant causes frostbite. If I had only known.

It's easy to say hey, it's my life and I'll do what I want. But it isn't. Others are always affected. This has forever changed our family's life. I have a hole in my heart and a soul that can never be fixed. The pain is so immense I can't describe it. There's nowhere to run from it. I cry all the time and I don't ever cry. I do what I'm supposed to do but I don't really care. My kids are messed up. One won't talk about it. The other will only sleep in our room at night. And my wife, I can't even describe how bad she is taking this. I thought we were safe because of Thor. I thought we were safe because we knew about drugs and talked to our kids about them.

After Kyle died another story came out. A Probation Officer went to the school system next to ours to speak with a student. While there he found a student using Dust Off in the bathroom. This student told him about another student who also had some in his locker. This is a rather affluent school system. They will tell you they don't have a drug problem there. They don't even have a “dare or plus program” there. So rather than tell everyone about this "new" way of getting high they found, they hid it. The probation officer told the media after Kyle's death and they, the school, then admitted to it. I know that if they would have told the media and I had heard, it wouldn't have been in my house. We need to get this out of our homes and school computer labs.Using Dust Off isn't new and some "professionals" do know about it. It just isn't talked about much, except by the kids. They know about it.

April 2nd was 1 month since Kyle died. April 5th would have been his 15th birthday. And every weekday I catch myself sitting on the living room couch at 2:30am in the afternoon and waiting to see him get off the bus. I know Kyle is in heaven but I can't help but wonder If I died and went to Hell.”

Note about Dust-off, a spray used to clean computers. Unfortunately, it is a common inhalant that youngsters find readily available. Inhaling this chemical – you already know it’s called dusting – gives you an intense high and causes dizziness for approximately 10 seconds. Many teens believe it is only compressed air and therefore harmless, but it is dangerously deadly. Dust-off contains the chemical, difluroethane, a propellant which is also used as a refrigerant in refrigerators to keep food cold. This chemical is a heavy gas that expands in the lungs when inhaled and prevents oxygen from entering your lungs. As a result, the gas reduces the oxygen to your heart and your brain and you can die! It can happen so quickly that abusers have been found with the straw from the Dust-off can in their mouths and their eyes still open because they died while inhaling. (Re-read the email by Kyle’s father).

Falcon, the manufacturer of Dust-off, placed a warning label on the cans. It reads “Inhalant abuse is illegal and can cause permanent injury or be fatal. Please use our product responsibly.” Some stores that carry Dust-off and other inhalants that are abused such as spray paint have put age restrictions on purchasing the product. This may alleviate the situation, but the truth is that such products are usually purchased by adults without the slightest knowledge that their children may be using them to get high.

Please Stop, Look, and Listen and continually Educate your children concerning the dangers of inhalant abuse. They are not inhaling “just compressed air.”


National Drug Intelligence Center, “Inhalants fast facts”

National Institute of Drug Abuse, “Inhalant abuse”

A&E Television Special, “Intervention”

Copyright BJ Rakow 2011, 2013 Rev. All rights reserved. Author, "Much of What You Know about Job Search Just Ain't So" - a serious book about job search written in a light-hearted fashion.

Comments for Are Your Teenagers Huffing?

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    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      3 years ago from south Florida

      Have you talked about the subject with your teen? If no information was forthcoming, talk to a medical professional - a friend if you know one - to get some practical advice. And remove all aerosols, sprays, etc. that you may have in your home.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      my teen is most likely huffing I'm scared and don't know what to do

    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      5 years ago from south Florida

      Seems like you may be protective, peggy, which is a good thing, and further exploration could be necessary.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Found some sprays under decking and plastic containers carefully cut even pop cans cut all same as plastic empty cooking spray that went missing and shoe protectant am I paronoid

    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      Thank you, ps, for taking the time to share your real-life story of youngsters who died from huffing. It is more prevalent than many parents believe. Probably because there are so many common, ordinary items for these kids to use to achieve that high. A VERY dangerous practice!

      Have a safe and wonderful holiday, m'dear.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      6 years ago from sunny Florida

      This is so important. So many do not realize how readily available things are for kids to use to huff. This topic brings chills up and down my spine as it hit close to home. When I was teaching in South Florida, I picked up the morning paper as I always did before I went to work. There on the front page was a story no one wants to read. Two young boys from the middle school down the street from us had died from huffing...I believe it was hair spray ...o, my goodness. It was a black cloud over our lives for some time. Many of the children in our school had brothers and sisters who went to the middle school where huffing had claimed the lives of those two boys. Some of the teachers at our school had taught them. What a waste.

      Hopefully parents and caregivers will read this and be more aware. When I taught middle school a few years later, sniffing white out was common and popular. The kids would come to my class red faced and with white out evident around their nose. We spent many long hours working with the kids trying to get it to stop. Once again thank you for sharing this.

      Sending Angels to you... :) ps

    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      Thanks for the visit, David. Your rationale has merit. In fact, there are a number of states trying to enact laws right now on making the use of marihuana legal - with some restrictions.

    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      You are most welcome, tr. Huffing is a practice that many people are not aware of. Between you and me and every other reader of this hub, perhaps we can save some youngsters who do not realize its mortal danger.

    • profile image

      David Davidson 

      6 years ago

      Interesting story. It's sad to see how much this drug war is failing. If the kid could smoke a joint every once in a while he probably wouldn't feel a need to inhale house hold products.. He might have even still been here today. Just saying.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Thank you so very much for the article, and the copy of Kyle's Dad's letter. I was looking into this for my college class on Drugs & Behavior. I had NO idea this was mortally dangerous... I've heard of it - vaguely.

      Now, I will print paper copies of this and mail to all my sisters and friends with youngsters.

      Again, thank you. And shame, terrible shame, on the school that thought they were too good to disclose this practice and educate parents and kids. Dear God.

    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      How right you are, Natalie. This is a must read since so many parents and teenagers are not aware of the potential and dangerous results of huffing. Thanks for dropping by.

    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      It's so nice to meet you, idratherbe. I'm so sorry that the daughter of one of your friends died from this horrible practice. You are absolutely right - this IS a must read for parents AND their teenage children. Thank you for commenting and leaving an Up.

    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      Thank you, mary, for finding, reading and sharing the important message in this hub about the practice of youngsters 'huffing.' Your efforts will help to publicize the dangers of inhalant abuse. And thank you, too, for the Up.

    • Nat Amaral profile image

      Nat Amaral 

      6 years ago from BC Canada

      A very scary wake up call which is a must read. Thanks for writing this piece. Natalie

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This is a must read for all parents! Voted up. The daughter of one of my friends died from huffing when she was 15.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      6 years ago from Florida

      Hi drbj, I just finished your Hub about teens huffing. I had heard of them inhaling some substances, but not compressed air! This is a great article, and I'm going to share it on my FB page and my folowers. Thanks for this great info on huffing. I'm voting UP, etc.

    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      7 years ago from south Florida

      There is no way to know whether the symptoms you describe are a result of huffing or not. But it appears to be serious enough for you to do two things: 1 - Have your little brother seen immediately by a mental health professional, and 2 - Remove anything in the entire home that could be used as an inhalant. (See the list of potential inhalants listed in the hub above.)

      Good luck.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I saw this page and didn't know who else to turn to. My little brother has been huffing air deodorants. We knew nothing of this until the past two weeks when he became off kilter. He's hearing things, hallucinating, and truly believes things such as he's on the internet, he spoke to the Pope, or people are watching him. I don't know if this is all a result of huffing or if there is an underlying and serious mental condition occurring. I am terrified that we're going to find him dead in his room. Can these symptoms be the result of huffing or do you believe the huffing is a result of a more serious mental condition? Thanks for your opinion.

    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      7 years ago from south Florida

      Nice to meet you, Dachs. No, I do not think you are over-reacting at all. Either your doggie brought you his or her personal huffing equipment (for a refill perhaps), or just found it in the yard.

      It sounds like the real thing with the clump of wool used instead of a rag to hold the inhalant that produces a temporary high. A very dangerous practice!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Today our dog brought me a surprise. It was a small plastic bag that had a plastic straw rubberbanded into the bag. Inside the bag was something that felt like a clump of wool.

      Am I over-reacting, is my dog using drugs, or is this something used for huffing (or something similar)?

    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      8 years ago from south Florida

      I pray your son will recover, Rick, with no ill effects. Huffing is an insidious practice because the majority of young people who indulge in it are not aware of its drastic consequences.

      If our schools are unwilling to educate students about the dangers of huffing, then parents must be educated in order to keep these dangerous substances out of the hands of their children.

      What a terrible event this was for you and your family having to learn personally about this evil! God bless you and your family.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      My name is Rick. I just read the Jeff's story about his son Kyle. Jeff is right and please we need more support on this matter. I just got off from work ending my 40 hours from work. I got home like every Sunday after work. At 8:30pm my oldest son Rick age 15 was rushed to emergency. after finding him in his room with a can of compress air in his right hand and will you know the rest. I have another son Michael who is handicap so I remain at home and now I am waiting for the call from my wife on the status of our son. Jeff's story is so similar to my family's even the fact were I purchased the 3 pack of this compress air drug. It's seems it's only real when it happens to you!

    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      8 years ago from south Florida

      Thank you, jacobkuttyta, for your comment and desire to spread the word about inhalant abuse. If we can reach enough caring parents, we can make a positive difference.

    • jacobkuttyta profile image

      Siny J 

      8 years ago from Delhi, India

      Very informative and must read hub. I recommend this hub to my friends.


    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      8 years ago from south Florida

      Thanks, niteriter, for your incisive comments. You always seem to have something significant to say. And in the case of inhalant abuse, we cannot say enough to our youngsters about its dangers and potential consequences.

      The practice of huffing reminds me that this statement is invariably true: Our consequences are a result of our behavior!

    • Niteriter profile image


      8 years ago from Canada

      Sadly, this is a common problem among the aboriginal youth where I live. Gasoline is the usual substance and it has resulted in far too many deaths.

      The problem has been recognized by community leaders where the problem is present and serious action is under way to erase it from society. The dedicated workers who deal with this on a daily basis work one on one with the kids in their care to find out why "normal" isn't goood enough.

      Your article is an invaluable tool for families who do not have such resources provided to them.

    • drbj profile imageAUTHOR

      drbj and sherry 

      8 years ago from south Florida

      jayjay - you are right on. That is exactly why I wrote this hub - to educate or remind anyone who isn't aware of the dangers of inhalants. They are a serious problem. Thanks for stopping by - it's always my pleasure to hear from you.

    • jayjay40 profile image


      8 years ago from Bristol England

      This hub is a MUST READ fo anyone with teenagers. Thanks for bringing Dust-off to everyone's attention. Well done on writing this hub, it could save someone's life


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