A Dangerous Trend among America's Youth: What Adults Can Do to Help

The recent rise in popularity of the internet site YouTube.com has drawn the attention of public health officials toward an alarming trend among American youth. YouTube allows the public to upload homemade videos to the web, and some of these videos have portrayed teens using inhalants. Inhalant use is the deliberate breathing of gases or vapors for their intoxicating effects. The videos provide information on how to use these substances in ways other than they were intended, and most of them glorify the effects of using inhalants. Few videos address the likely negative effects of inhalant use.

Inhalants are often the first substance children try, and although 5% of parents believe their children have experimented with inhalants, in reality 20% of children have actually tried them. Inhalant abuse can cause weight loss, organ (including brain) damage, and problems affecting judgment and long-term memory. Inhalants can even cause death, whether it is the first time an individual has used an inhalant or if they use more than once.

Adults can help to protect the children and adolescents in their lives from the risks of inhalants. One step is to know the signs of potential use. Chemical smells on the child's breath or clothing, paint stains on the face or hands, and empty aerosol cans are a few indications of a problem. The MA Substance Abuse Information and Education Helpline (1-800-327-5050 or www.helpline-online.com ) is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, if one is concerned about the potential of abuse.

Whenever possible, water-based and non-aerosol products should be used. If alternative products are unavailable, potential inhalants should be stored in a secure place. The informational brochure Preventing Substance Abuse Starts at Home: Safeguarding Your Children helps parents take a tour of their home in order to identify where potentially abused substances may be found, and provides tips on how to use safer alternative products to protect children from substance abuse. This brochure, along with other MA Department of Public Health substance abuse prevention materials, can be ordered in bulk and for free from the Massachusetts Health Promotions Clearinghouse at www.maclearinghouse.com.

Another way to help protect youth is by talking to them about the dangers of inhalants without telling them how to use the substances. The MA Inhalant Abuse Task Force sponsors a brief online training for parents, guardians, and other adults interested in protecting their children from inhalant abuse ( www.inhalantabusetraining.org). The training includes tips on how to talk to youth about the dangers of inhalant use. Parents and other adults have a great impact in a youth's decisions. By maintaining open communication with the child or adolescent and taking precautionary steps, adults can help youth live happier, healthier lives.

This information is provided by the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services within the Department of Public Health.