Solvent abuse is intentionally breathing in solvents to try to get a feeling of euphoria or a “high.” Solvents are products such as paint thinner, nail polish remover, hairspray, cooking aerosol sprays and glues. The intentional inhaling abuse of solvents was originally called glue sniffing.
Solvent abusers often place the solvents into a paper or plastic bag to inhale or sniff them. When a bag is placed over the nose and mouth during solvent abuse, there is a very real danger of suffocation. Inhaling solvents may also cause vomiting; solvent abusers have died as a result of choking on their own vomit. Some people think that solvent abuse isn't a serious drug problem because these are household products, yet abusing everyday solvents by sniffing them instead of using them as cleaners and glues can cause serious problems and even death.
Solvent abusers can be of any age, but the highest risk group is thought to be between 11 and 16. Younger people may first experience sniffing solvents to get high with friends before developing a habit of abusing a particular solvent on their own. Household products are often easy as well as cheap for young people to obtain, so parents have to consider that solvent abuse may be an issue for their child. Signs of solvent abuse include a dazed look to the eyes and slurred speech. A red rash around the mouth is one of the most telltale signs of a solvent abuser.
It's important to discuss the dangers of solvent abuse with children in an open, communicative manner. Young teens may not believe the very real dangers of sniffing everyday household products. They may think that a high from these products is relatively safe.
The high from abusing a solvent by sniffing is not safe and it's likely to be very short. This often causes the solvent abuser to repeat the action many times, so a lot of the product ends up being inhaled. In addition to death from suffocation and choking, solvent abusers have died of heart attacks from irregular heartbeats. Intentionally inhaling solvents may also cause damage to the liver, kidneys, heart and brain.
Toulene is a chemical found in most solvents. Toulene's reaction with dopamine in the brain causes a short-term high. Since the body's oxygen levels are decreased when sniffing solvents, there is a risk of suffocation even without the use of a bag. The risk of death or injury from solvent abuse is especially high for children.