What Causes Inhalant Abuse?
More than two million teens in the U.S. have sniffed or inhaled a chemical such as glue, gasoline, household solvents, nitrous oxide or spray paint to get high. For many it’s an act of curiosity or teenage rebellion. But for some, the attraction progresses to regular abuse and dependence that gradually destroys vital body organs. For many who abuse inhalants, inhalant abuse is a gateway to the abuse of other, more powerfully addictive drugs.
In a recent National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) study, researchers found a strong link between inhalant abuse and other problem behaviors. Analyzing data on 36,859 teens aged 12 to 17, researchers found the following disturbing correlations:
- Inhalant abusers had become abusers by the age of 13 or 14.
- Inhalant abusers had abused two or more other drugs within the past year.
- Inhalant abusers were more likely to exhibit other serious delinquent behaviors such as stealing, fighting and carrying a handgun.
- Inhalant abusers were more likely to have mental health problems such as depression, aggression or anxiety.
The NIDA study paints a picture of inhalant abusers as highly troubled youths with multiple vulnerabilities. Adolescents who exhibit socially delinquent behaviors were shown to be six times more likely than other teens to abuse inhalants and three times more likely to become dependent. Weekly abuse doubled their chances of becoming dependent on inhalants. Those who also abused other drugs were twice as likely to become addicted to inhalants. Teens with mental health issues were also twice as likely to become addicted to inhalants.
Researchers are torn about the cause and effect of delinquent behavior and inhalant abuse. It’s a matter of which came first, the chicken or the egg? One of the study leaders, Dr. Daniel Pilowsky of Columbia University in New York City, explained:
” Although the kids who abuse inhalants seem to have other drug abuse, emotional difficulties, and delinquent behaviors, the cross-sectional design of this study means we can’t say which came first — inhalant abuse or other problems. Longitudinal research is needed to identify the sequence and nature of behaviors involved in inhalant use disorders.”