Getting high has assumed another dimension as teens and young adults are discovering the euphoric effect of substances such as deodorants, ink and typewriter whitener.
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It is the night before his board exams. Just like any other teen, 18 year old Ankit Arora is nervous and apprehensive about not living up to his parents expectations and his own too. After a few panicky hours, he decides to do something to calm his nerves. Only, his way of relaxing isn"t the usual: He doesn"t listen to music, watch TV, take a short nap or eat a slice of cake. Instead, he simply sprays huge amounts of his favourite deodorant into a towel and inhales deeply.
A few deep breaths are all it takes to make him feel light headed. For a brief period, he feels elated, free of exam jitters. This is not something new to him. His friends introduced him to inhaling dendrite and ink when he was in all of 14 and ever since then inhaling substances has been the "in" way to "chill out and relax". Welcome to the murky world of substance abuse that is no longer restricted to cocaine, marijuana, heroin, Ecstasy and the like. Easily available household items are the substances of choice for many kids who use them to " get a high" and relax. Ask any teen about this and he will tell you about his friends who sniff glue, eat bread laced with Iodex or shoe polish, inhale paint, nail polish, gas and petrol and worse, play deadly games like the "choking game".
"Concern over this disturbing trend is growing as many children are suffering the inevitable health consequences of these habits. The frightening part is that the kids don"t realise that these seemingly innocuous habits damage the health as much as smoking marijuana and doing cocaine," says Dr Rachna Singh, consultant psychologist, Artemis Hospital. Parents are also completely unaware of the extent to which substance abuse can go, and many simply refuse to believe that their offspring is capable of such behaviour.Health impacts of sniffingDendrite, Erasex, ink and deodorant sprays are familiar paraphernalia in an average teenager"s room. However these substances pose a cheap and easily available way to get high. The habit might begin innocuously enough with a friend suggesting a way to relax after a rigorous period of studying or from information gleaned online or from the peer group. The most common substance used by teens and young adults to get high are inhalants, sniffed for their mindaltering or behavioural effects.
They are commonly found in glue, nail polish remover, typewriter correction fluid, felt-tip markers, butane lighter fluid, oven cleaners, hair spray, and furniture polish to name a few. Because these substances aren"t illegal, they"re easy and cheap for kids to obtain and hide at home or at school. "The ingredients in these substances act on the chemical receptors of the brain resulting in a feeling of pleasure. Kids get hooked onto this high feeling," says Dr Monica Chib, senior consultant psychiatrist, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital. Cleaning liquids, air fresheners and paint contain chemicals which also purportedly give a high and have a damaging effect on the body.The number of children who abuse inhalants has doubled in the last decade, say doctors. The risk is enormous because the effects of inhaling toxic chemicals are so unpredictable. "A child who tries a certain amount and appears okay could use the same amount another time and get very sick or even die. Some kids have died the very first time they"ve sniffed an inhalant; their parents never even had the chance to notice warning signs," says Dr Singh.Inhalants slow down the body"s functions and induce a sense of intoxication which usually lasts from 15 minutes to an hour. After reaching the lungs, they are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, and within minutes a person feels "high". The chemicals chemicals from the inhalants can stay in the brain for a long time. One part of the brain that may be damaged by the chemicals over a period is myelin; fatty tissues which help nerve fibers carry messages to and from the brain. Death by asphyxiation is another serious risk of inhalants. "Prolonged abuse can damage the respiratory system, the mucosal lining of the nose and lungs, infect the blood stream and major organs like the kidney and liver," says Dr Chib.Other highsAn innocuous helium balloon can also be a source of substance abuse, however ridiculous that may sound. Remember the scene in My Best Friend"s Wedding where a group of young boys clustered around pink and white helium balloons sing a popular love song in a funny squeaky voice and giggle uncontrollably thereafter? Inhaling helium from a balloon can change the voice to make it sound like a cartoon character"s as it changes the way vibrations come through your voice box. The gas makes one feel lightheaded and dizzy. It can be deadly as this gas replaces oxygen in the bloodstream, resulting in loss of consciousness, ruptured lungs and cerebral gas embolism.Cough syrups, nasal decongestants and painkillers are easily available pharmaceuticals which are commonly abused by teens for a high. " Cough syrup contains dextromethorphan or DXM which can be safely taken in 15 - 30 mg doses to suppress a cough but when taken in large quantities for the purpose of a "buzz" can be dangerous," says Dr Arpit Jain, consultant internal medicine, Artemis Health Institute. Abusers tend to consume as much as 350 mg upwards of DXM and this can cause hallucinations, loss of balance, blurred vision, nausea and irregular heartbeat. Prolonged abuse of cough syrup, combined with sedatives or alcohol can result in high fever, seizures and even death. Nasal decongestants contain ephedrine which induces a drowsy feeling. Fighting this drowsy feeling is what induces a buzz according to some children who have tried it.Many factors to blameDoctors blame excessive competition, stress and the internet for this growing trend. A desire to "fit in" also drives such behaviour. Ask any teen why they choose to dabble in such dangerous activities and they will immediately tell you it is not as bad as doing drugs and they do it because it is "cool". Go online and you will find blog sites where youngsters discuss ways of relieving boredom or stress. A member of one such site blithely suggests choking oneself to get a "natural" high if someone is bored at home. Yet another one shares his experience of sniffing gas and "feeling unimaginably light".
Doctors warn that the pressure placed on children by parents is having a more serious impact on their psyche than imagined. There has been a huge shift in lifestyle, with competition increasing by leaps and bounds and stress being the keyword in every aspect of life. Young children are placed under immense pressure to excel and out do their peers for a foothold in the rat race. "This results in stress becoming an intrinsic part of their lives. Since young minds are most impressionable, they believe inhalants and other substances as well as deadly games will give them the release that they are looking for," says Dr Singh. Thanks to the vast amount of information online, youngsters experiment with substances without realising the consequences.Warning signsTo begin with, parents need to acknowledge that strange and dangerous ways of getting high are now available, and that their kids are completely susceptible to trying these out. Parents should be open to talking about these subjects with their children instead of harbouring the idea that discussions will only encourage experimentation. "It"s nave for a parent to assume that they are the prime informers for their kids," counters Dr Singh. "Children can go to the Internet and YouTube to learn about the choking game or how to "huff" or inhale substances or how to get an easy high by drinking cough syrup," she says. Parents should realise that children suffer from stress and the need to fit into their peer group adds to this. "Peer pressure is a big thing and it might seem insignificant to an adult but fitting in with a group is very important for impressionable children," says Dr Chib.Watch out for money disappearing from around the house, not necessarily large amounts, but small change as well. Keep track of the quantities of cough syrup and other medications that are stocked in the house and avoid stockpiling such medicines. Physical symptoms of substance abuse and deadly games include blood shot eyes, marks around the neck and severe headaches and nausea. "The child may become withdrawn and spend more time alone. Sudden disregard for hygiene, fatigue and weight loss are other signs to watch out for," says Dr Singh. Unusual numbers of tubes of glue or paint, ink and empty deo-spray containers and knotted ties and scarves stashed away in drawers or under the bed are also signs of suspicious behaviour."Above all, talk to your kids about drug abuse and explain that even though taking lots of a cough or cold medicine or sniffing glue and ink seems harmless, it"s not," says Dr Chib. "A dialogue between children and parents is very important in the present day scenario where there is enough scope for impressionable minds to be corrupted," says Dr Singh. Even if you don"t think your teens are doing it, chances are they know kids who are. Of course don"t jump to conclusions and don"t conclude your child is involved in such activities. But it is imperative to know how children feel, and for parents to get more involved in their kid"s lives and concerns. This could be the only way to protect them from the risks of substance abuse.
Certain substances and activities stimulate the brain chemicals dopamine, serotonin and adrenalin and that"s what produces a feeling of euphoria and release. Obtaining a natural high is easy and safe enough. Here we describe healthy ways recommended by those who know the dangers of substance abuse.
Standing in a windstorm: This creates a sense of euphoria. "You have to face the direction of the wind and if it rains, the sensation is even better. The wind will take your breath away and create a high," says Debanuj.
Go for a run: Endorphins are released during long, continuous workouts, when the level of intensity is between moderate and high, and breathing is difficult, resulting in a euphoric feeling. So go for a run to experience a "runner"s high" or hit the gym to get that adrenaline pumping. It will result in the buzz you are looking for.
Spinning: Sufi saints practice whirling as a method of worship and they say this achieves a sense of balance and centering which has a meditative and relaxing effect. The spinning sensation in the head high gives a natural high and is harmless. So, enrol in a class to learn this method, or simply spin till you are dizzy like you used to do as a child.
Chanting: This is an age old method of achieving a high. Chanting a mantra and simultaneously breathing deeply has a relaxing effect on the body. This might be a slower process of achieving a feeling of euphoria but it is the safest and healthiest method.
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The choking game, also known as the fainting game, is another dangerous method favoured by kids to get a high. A study published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics documented 65 YouTube videos of the game, which had collectively been viewed 173,550 times. "Though no one will come out and admit it, people do all kinds of stupid things just to feel better, even if it"s temporary," says 24 year old Pooja Ganguly. "I know boys who used to play this game right before a class. This would help them get a high as well as give them a chance to miss class because they would complain of feeling faint and giddy," says 19 year old Rohan Bagchi (name changed) who has recently finished school.There are two ways kids play this disturbing game: One can be a solo operation, using a necktie, belt or other type of binding to put pressure on the carotid artery in the neck. The other method involves a partner, who can apply pressure to the neck or chest until the subject passes out, cutting off blood flow to the brain. Teens participate in such activities alone or in groups, holding their breath, strangling one another or dangling in a noose in the hopes of a high. The resulting rush of oxygen once the pressure is released generates a pleasurable sensation, or "natural high." "If the oxygen supply to the brain is cut off long enough, the result can be death, coma, brain damage, broken neck bones and eye hemorrhages," says Dr Jain.Reports of this practice are rare, and awareness amongst parents, negligible. "Our society is wary of discussing such topics and any such issues are hushed up for fear of social stigma. Thus documentation on this subject is sparse-any deaths can be easily mislabelled as suicide," says Dr Singh. Doctors say this is a disturbing trend and parents should be extra vigilant of their children if they sense anything is amiss. "Children don"t perceive any risk in playing such games because they see these videos or hear accounts of people enjoying themselves during such activities. That"s why doctors as well as parents should be aware so that they can recognize the symptoms of any such activity," says Dr Singh. And that"s not all. There are even deadlier methods of getting high: Those involving snakes. "I don"t know anyone who has done this but I have heard that you can roll your tongue back and let a baby snake bite you under the tongue. It"s scary stuff because you can die but talk of innovation!" says Rohan.