Most of us buy personal care items on a regular basis without considering their potential as substances of abuse. But common products like nail polish remover, hairspray and deodorant can represent a cheap, quick high for children and teens. Inhalant abuse has become a serious threat to adolescent health in the United States, especially for younger teens.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reveals that household chemicals like nail polish remover are the most commonly used drugs among 12- and 13-year-olds in the United States. In this nationwide survey, 3.4 percent of 12-year-old adolescents who responded reported that they had intentionally inhaled chemical fumes for their euphoric effects. Among 13-year-old respondents, 4.8 percent reported abusing inhalants. Simple products like nail polish remover, available in many American homes, pose a threat to young people when their fumes are deliberately inhaled.
Why Is Nail Polish Remover Dangerous?
Many nail polish removers contain acetone, a chemical solvent that is very effective as a paint thinner, industrial cleanser and solvent. This clear, colorless liquid belongs to a class of chemicals called ketones. Ketones are produced as a byproduct of human metabolism, but they are also synthesized for industrial purposes.
Acetone is generally considered safe when it’s used for its intended purposes, but for teens who deliberately inhale its vapors, acetone can be extremely dangerous. Available at drugstores, supermarkets, salons and convenience stores, nail polish remover is inexpensive and easy to obtain.
When inhaled in high concentrations, acetone acts as a central nervous system depressant, slowing down vital functions like heartbeat, respiration and metabolism. Acetone is also highly flammable, which means that teenagers who inhale its fumes while smoking are at risk of life-threatening burn injuries.
Young teenagers who are just beginning to experiment with drugs often start with inhalation, or “huffing.” Nail polish remover can be inhaled directly from the bottle, poured into a bag and inhaled by mouth, or sniffed from a saturated rag. No matter how it’s abused, acetone can cause adverse side effects, such as:
- Irritation of the throat and nasal passages
- Nausea and vomiting
- Damage to the eyes
Long-term exposure to acetone can cause weakness, chronic irritation of the respiratory passages, mood swings and irritability.
The Scope of Inhalant Abuse
National surveys of drug use among teens rely on the respondents to report their own use of inhalants. For this reason, it’s hard to estimate the true scope of inhalant abuse in the adolescent population. Addiction Science & Clinical Practice has gathered these disturbing statistics about inhalant abuse in the United States:
- Over half (58 percent) of inhalant users report that they tried inhalants for the first time before they started 10th grade.
- Teens who consistently abuse inhalants have a higher dropout rate than those who don’t.
- About 13 percent of high school students report that they have used an inhalant at some point in their lives.
- Around 30 percent of 8th graders in one national survey believe that using inhalants one or two times is a serious risk (in fact, first-time users are at a high risk of death from asphyxia, sudden sniffing death syndrome and severe injuries, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians).
Nail polish remover may not present the same level of risk as inhalants like gasoline, glue or paint. However, any form of inhalant abuse should be taken as a threat to a teen’s health and safety.
If you’re concerned about your son’s misuse of household chemicals, call Muir Wood for a confidential discussion of your needs. We specialize in guiding young boys through the obstacles of adolescence so they can become healthy, sober men.