Paint thinner is a chemical solvent that’s strong enough to dissolve the toughest paints and lacquers. Toluene and xylene, two of the primary components of paint thinners, model glues, spray paints and many other products, have a high level of toxicity. These chemicals can cause severe damage to the brain, heart, lungs, liver and kidneys, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In spite of these hazards, many American teens use paint thinners as recreational drugs, inhaling their fumes for their mind-altering, sedative effects.
It’s not hard for teenagers to gain access to paint thinners. These solvents are legal, affordable and easy to buy or steal. Most teens don’t even have to leave the home to find a can of paint thinner; it’s as easy as searching through the garage or basement.
Intentionally sniffing high concentrations of paint thinner can be fatal, even for a young person who is abusing inhalants for the first time. If you suspect that your child is experimenting with paint thinners, gasoline, lighter fluid, glue or other common household products, it’s important to seek help in order to prevent tragic consequences.
How Is Paint Thinner Abused?
Inhaling the fumes of toxic chemicals, a practice known as “huffing,” represents an inexpensive high for vulnerable teens. Paint thinner is inhaled by soaking a rag with the fluid and holding the rag against the face, or by sniffing the vapors straight from the container. Paint thinner can also be abused by pouring the liquid in a plastic sack, placing the sack tightly over the mouth and inhaling. This practice, known as “bagging,” can cause chemical asphyxiation, unconsciousness, cardiac arrest and death.
The effects of huffing are powerful but brief, which means that the user must inhale many times within a short period to prolong the effects. Teens don’t have to abuse toluene-based products for a long time in order to experience these side effects:
- Breathing problems
- Irregular heart rate
Sudden sniffing death syndrome, a condition that occurs when toxic fumes cause cardiac arrest, has been reported in teens using inhalants for the first time as well as long-term users.
Toluene and xylene belong to a family of chemicals called the aromatic hydrocarbons. These toxic compounds are used safely in many homes, schools and industrial settings, yet when they’re inhaled for recreational purposes, they are quickly absorbed by the body’s tissues and can cause immediate harm to the vital organs. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that toluene can be detected in the bloodstream within 10 seconds after it’s inhaled.
According to the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, the neurological damage caused by toluene abuse has been documented through computerized tomography (CT) scans of the brain. The long-term cognitive effects of toluene abuse can include:
- Problems with learning and memory
- Loss of motor coordination
- Poor judgment and planning skills
- Slow thinking and difficulty with concentration
Red Flags of Inhalant Abuse
How can you tell if someone you love is abusing paint thinner or other toxic chemicals? Huffing leaves a number of telltale signs:
- Patches of reddened skin or sores around the mouth
- Unusual clumsiness, often leading to an increase in accidents
- Dizziness and confusion
- Red, watery eyes
- A runny nose
- Complaints of nausea or vomiting
- Fatigue and weakness
Toluene, xylene and other aromatic hydrocarbons have a fruity smell. They may leave a sweetish chemical odor on your teenager’s breath or clothing. Teens who are huffing on a regular basis may spend a lot of time locked in their rooms, avoiding family meals and giving up former activities. Academic performance often declines, and old friends may be abandoned.
For many teens, inhalant abuse starts as early as middle school. Teenagers of this age are too young to fully comprehend the risks of abusing chemicals. They might assume that paint thinner and other everyday solvents or adhesives are safer than marijuana, alcohol or meth. Yet the potential for death and serious injury is very real.
At Muir Wood, we understand the challenges that teens face when they’re trying to overcome substance abuse and addiction. If a young boy you care about is struggling with inhalant abuse, call our toll-free number for support and information.