Solvent abuse

Solvent abuse

What is solvent abuse?

Solvent abuse is usually a habit of younger adolescents whereby they inhale the fumes and vapours from solvents such as glue and aerosol cans. It is less popular now with more stringent sales regulations and easier access to other drugs.

Substances called hydrocarbons can be sniffed from glues, petrol, dry cleaning fluids, typing correction fluid, nail polish and remover, and propellant gas from aerosols. Most sniffers sniff directly from the bottle or tube, others use a plastic bag held over their mouth. When inhaled, they give an effect similar to alcohol, which includes:

  • Euphoria, then dizziness with blurring of vision, followed by feelings of unreality, disorientation and irregular, jerky movements.
  • Visual hallucinations.
  • Stomach cramps.
  • Acute intoxication comes on very suddenly and disappears quickly once sniffing stops. A mild hangover may be experienced.

Risks include death from inhalation of vomit, from an accident or from an irregular heartbeat. Solvents can cause acute kidney, liver and brain damage, related to individual susceptibility rather than amount inhaled. It is usually, but not always reversible. Anti-social behaviour is also common amongst adolescents who abuse solvents.

How do I recognise solvent abuse?

A telltale sign is acute intoxication in a young person without evidence that they have taken alcohol. The chemical may be smelt on their breath and there may be evidence of glue on their clothing, face or hands. Glue sniffers rash - similar to acne - can occur around the mouth where the bag has rubbed the chin and bridge of the nose.

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