they are and how they are used
Solvents are poisons found
in household products which give off fumes at room temperature and cause intoxication
(similar to alcohol or anaesthetics).
Substances which contain solvents include:
glues, correction fluids, paint thinners, dry cleaning fluid, nail polish remover,
cigarette lighter gas, aerosol sprays, whipping cream dispensers, petrol, toluene and others.
Solvents are also
called inhalants or volatile substances. The behaviour of inhaling these substances
to get intoxicated is called 'sniffing', 'glue sniffing', 'chroming'
(spray paint), 'nanging' (nitrous oxide), 'huffing', solvent abuse or
volatile substance use/abuse.
Solvents can be directly inhaled through the mouth or nose from its
container or placed into another container such as a plastic bag or tin or by putting the
substance on a sleeve or rag. Solvents are also directly absorbed through the skin.
Effects of solvents
As with all drugs, the effects of solvent sniffing will depend on:
* the amount inhaled;
* the environment in which the
substance is used;
* individual characteristics such as
age, gender, mood, previous experience and mood; and
* the way the substance is inhaled.
Similar to alcohol
The effects of solvents are similar to alcohol as they are both depressant
Speed of effects
Solvents differ from alcohol in their speed of onset which can occur within seconds.
This can cause disorientation. Unless more gas is inhaled, the primary effects tends to
wear off in 1 - 5 minutes. In some cases where large amounts have been inhaled over
a period of time, these effects can last up to 1 hour after the last dose. In
the case of petrol sniffing, some short-term effects can last up
to 6 hours.
Up to half of those using solvents also report visual distortions (mild hallucinations or
illusions). These tend to be frightening in nature.
Solvents can sometimes cause irritation to the nose, eyes and mouth during and after
Hangovers and headaches often occur
during or shortly after use and may last several hours.
Physical damage often reversible
The weight of research evidence suggests the physical effects of solvents
on organ tissue (including the brain), rarely causes permanent damage in the majority of
solvent abusers. Where there is evidence of effects such as memory problems, reduced
impulse control, kidney, liver or bone/blood effects, these are mostly reversible over time if the
person stops using solvents. (There is evidence of permanent damage from long-term or high
dose exposure to solvents in workplace/industrial settings).
Permanent damage from long-term use
Long-term use of some solvents can cause permanent damage to brain, liver and kidney
function although this is relatively rare.
Long-term use of leaded petrol in particular may cause brain damage as
well as other health problems including leukaemia, cancers, pneumonia and anorexia.
Sudden Sniffing Death (SSD)
Some solvents, particularly butane gas in lighter refills, aerosols, cleaning fluid,
liquid paper correction fluid, certain fire extinguishers, and petrol can cause 'Sudden
Sniffing Death' (SSD). The solvent reacts with natural adrenaline-like substances to cause
heart failure. This is more likely to occur during strenuous exercise or if suddenly
frightened immediately after or during sniffing. Sudden death from solvents can also
be caused by lack of oxygen if a plastic bag is placed over the head or from suffocation
is aerosols are sprayed directly into throat from swelling and spasm of the larynx.
Accidents such as drowning and injury from motor vehicles occur in much the same way as
intoxication from alcohol.
Risk of suicide relates to five key factors:
1. Use of solvents as a coping mechanism may replace other, more functional coping
2. Impulse suicide is more common during periods of intoxication.
3. Unsupported withdrawal from solvents (particularly if a primary coping strategy) may
predispose to suicide attempts.
4. Young males are the highest users of solvents and also amongst the highest risk groups
5. Chronic solvent users almost always have major emotional/psychological/environmental
problems which precede solvent use.
Sex Abuse and Sexual Problems
The following make solvent sniffing particularly risky regarding
|Young age of user and inexperience make a
target for exploitation by paedophiles and others|
|Rapidity of onset means can be used as a
'date rape' drug|
|Vulnerability to STDs because of
inexperience, shame in using condoms & reckless behaviour
associated with intoxication|
|Several reports of trading solvents for
sexual favours. |
Some people can become dependent upon solvents, which may cause serious disruption to
their lives as well as resulting in developmental delays. Some young people use
solvents to manage psychological pain and as a way to show others they have problems.
It's use may be similar to self-harming behaviours. Suicide is a high risk
with these young people, particularly in unsupported detoxification.
Tolerance (needing more of the substance for similar effects) can occur with regular
solvent use. Cross tolerance, (tolerance to other substances) particularly to
alcohol and anaesthetic gases can also occur.
Withdrawal symptoms tend to be reduced as solvents are absorbed into the
fatty tissue and slowly released from the body. However, if heavily reliant on
solvents, a range of symptoms including anxiety, depression, headaches' and abdominal
cramps may occur.
Who uses solvents
for a number of downloadable files on statistics).
While the peak age range of solvent use is between 11 and 16, the vast
majority (around 4 out of 5) of this age group have never used solvents. Of those who have
used solvents, around half only try once or twice (experimental). Some may continue
to use socially for a period while the drug is in fashion (social). A small minority
will continue to use and may become dependent (dependent).
There is a modest over-representation of Aboriginal children using
solvents in some communities. However, by far the largest number of solvent users in
Western Australia are non-Aboriginal. There seems to be a relatively equal
distribution between gender of solvent users in WA.
As those who use solvents grow older, they tend
to switch to the use of alcohol and/or marijuana. Even for those
who continue to use solvents, alcohol and/or marijuana are used
more often as the preferred drug in most cases.
Why they use solvents and why they don't
Reasons for Use
Generally speaking, young people use solvents for much the same reasons as adults use
alcohol or other substances. These reasons can be grouped into:
a) seeking pleasure or
b) avoiding discomfort and pain.
In addition, young people may try these substances:
- out of curiosity;
- to challenge adult values;
- to draw attention to themselves;
- to express pain, anxiety and suffering;
- to be the best at being bad;
- to be part of a sub-culture they may identify with.
Possibly a more important question is why don't the majority of young people use these
substances, given that they are cheap, available, legal and provide a short-term 'high'
which can be easily controlled and extended.
The naturally occurring protective factors which reduce the amount of
solvent inhalation include:
- seen as 'gutter drugs' by most youth;
- social disapproval including peers;
- not generally advertised or glamorised by media;
- fear of harm, particularly brain damage;
- disapproval by parents and adults;
- bad smell;
- effects can be frightening and disorientating;
- headaches and irritation to eyes, nose and mouth.
The above protective factors are particularly important in designing
interventions. That is, where possible they should be maximised. They
definitely should not be compromised as these factors affect the majority of young people.
Legislation relating volatile
substance use (VSU) can be categorised in these areas:
User based legislation
Supply based legislation
(ie sale, supply, packaging)
Welfare based legislation (ie
management of street intoxication and other welfare issues affecting minors and others)
Law and order based legislation
(ie laws governing misconduct)
their own tend to be poorly associated with change. They may be
difficult to draft and implement because many of the products
containing solvents have legitimate uses. In addition, some laws
may actually increase levels of harm.
example, in the UK, where laws were introduced to
reduce the supply of solvents, solvent deaths increased as users moved to more hazardous
products (aerosols & butane gas) which were difficult to control.
However, voluntary controls are encouraged.
Retailers have a legal and moral right to refuse sale of solvents if they choose.
In some jurisdictions (ie WA) it is an offence to knowingly sell
or supply solvents to persons if it is know they will use them to
become intoxicated. Having a written store policy
will help protect stores against the unlikely event of discrimination issues.
What can be done
Identify exactly what's happening, what's working and what's not
- How much use & by whom?
- What are the key issues associate with solvent sniffing to be managed?
- What's already being done (what's working and what's not)
- Who needs to be involved
Supply of Solvents
- Retailer interventions (eg Retailers Acting Against Solvent Use Resource Kit)
Click here for more
information on retailer interventions
- Av gas to replace petrol in remote communities where petrol inhalation is a problem
- Community patrols
- Safe house (ie sobering-up beds)
- Police/welfare link-up
- Truancy management
- Rehabilitation services (click here
for WA services and programs)
- Case management
Parent & Family Support
- Targeted Education (eg booklet Solvent Sniffing - An Information Guide for Parents
About Glue and Other Solvent Use)
- Support for families of solvent abusers (attempt to both support families in distress as
well as mobilise parents as a key resource)
What not to do
- Use the term 'poison' rather than 'drug' when describing solvents
- Training health & welfare workers
- Young people & parents
Its schools should develop
volatile substance use policies as part of their general drug
management policy. Any such policy should be well distributed to
teachers and support staff, practiced and regularly evaluated.
Volatile substance use should be
incorporated into the schools generic drug program such as the
WA School Drug Education Project (click here)
Some features of such a school
volatile substance use policy could include:
Volatile substance use taught
in the context of being a poison and environmental hazard
rather than within the drug curriculum to:
- reduce the association of solvents with drugs,
- increase negative perceptions and associations with these
- prevent accidental advertising.
This should commence around years 5 or 6 (ie before age 11),
which is just before the age of initial experimentation.
Encourage the use of
alternative products to those which contain volatile
interventions for those identified as users or at known high
risk of being a user.
management protocols, particularly for dealing with chronic
solvent users, solvent users with associated
psychological/social problems, policing issues and staff
education and training issues.
In addition, other protective
Encourage the development of peer support programs within the school
Have a well-developed truancy
Encourage positive parenting
behavioural management procedures including procedures for
bullying and classroom procedures which emphasise success
Have adequate playground
- Education & vocational (Click here
for WA training, education and employment resource manual)
- Involve in community service (eg helping family, school or community projects)
- Code of practice (Click here
for media guidelines)
- Central point(s) for media contact
Link Up With Others
- Develop a working relationship with key stakeholders
- Form a committee or working party
- Discuss with your local Community Drug Service Team and/or other specialist drug
service. Ring ADIS
Review, Plan, Act, Review...
- Use this action learning cycle to ensure quality and effectiveness of
- Don't support media scare stories - they accidentally advertise solvents
- Be cautious running groups for solvent users: it may reinforce a delinquent group
- Don't announce solvent issues to all students - it advertises solvents
- Don't pay special attention to solvents - discuss in the context of general intoxication
or the management of poisons
- Don't describe all solvents or methods of use - speak in general terms, possibly mention
glue then speak generally about the 'poisons' in glue
- Be cautious about suspending students for solvent use - may be a positive reinforcement
for the student and the school may be held accountable if seen to fail in its duty of
care, particularly if the student is intoxicated
- Don't lecture or blame parents - provide supportive engagement where possible
- Don't do more of what hasn't worked in the past . Learn from mistakes and attempt
Sudden Sniffing Death
- Don't chase or frighten intoxicated solvent users - may cause heart failure
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