Scary: Inhalant addiction rises among children

Child psychiatrists say easy availability and negligible cost of inhalants like whitener and acetone makes them popular among children

Addiction to whitener, acetone, korex and other such inhalants may not sound alarming to many of us, but doctors at the Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General (Sion) Hospital warn otherwise.

A few weeks ago, the psychiatry department treated a 13-year-old boy who was addicted to flavoured whitener. Though whitener addiction is common among children, doctors were taken aback when they found that the child was using an electric pen to inhale the vapour.

Pic courtesy:
Pic courtesy:

“The child studies in an English medium school and was brought to us by his parents after the teacher complained of him being drowsy in class. In fact, the teacher was the one who discovered that the child was addicted to whitener and was using an electric pen,” said Dr Sagar Karia, psychiatrist at LTMG Hospital.

Initially, the child was put on medication and he also underwent psychotherapy, but eventually stopped coming for regular follow-ups.

Karia said this is not a stray case and there is an alarming rise among children getting addicted to inhalants, while their parents continue to live in denial.

“Parents are in denial and do not accept that their ward is addicted to inhalants. Compared to addiction to drugs like marijuana, inhalant addiction is a benign one, which is often left unattended,” said Karia.

He said the department is seeing 1 to 2 cases of children addicted to inhalants per week and it is a serious cause of concern.

“It is a gateway to other drugs. We need more awareness on inhalant addiction to resolve the underlining psychiatric problem at the earliest,” said Karia.

Child psychiatrists say easy availability and negligible cost of inhalants like whitener and acetone makes them popular among children. “Nobody suspects inhalant addiction till the time addiction takes a grave turn. The easy availability and cost factor have led to a rise in inhalant addiction in children. It is a dangerous addiction as the toxicity affects brain cells,” said Dr Vasant Mundra, psychiatrist, PD Hinduja hospital.

Psychiatrists say addiction among children is found to be high if they are left unsupervised for a long time.

“Usually, parents believe their wards are doing no wrong. So, when any untoward incident happens, it leaves them in a shock,” said Dr Harish Shetty, psychiatrist, Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital. Shetty says in the last five years, he has seen a 500 per cent increase in the number of cases where parents and children have no communication or emotional bond.

“This makes children feel fear, insecurity and anger as they do not get any emotional strength from their parents,” he elaborates.