May 9, 2008 Nearly one out of four teens who use an asthma inhaler say their intent is to get high. Findings from a new University of Michigan study identified high levels of asthma inhaler misuse among anti-social youths, who displayed higher levels of distress and were more likely to abuse other substances.
"Our findings indicate that inhaler misuse for the purposes of becoming intoxicated is both widespread and may justifiably be regarded as a form of substance abuse in many cases," said Brian Perron, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work and study's lead author.
Perron co-authored the study with Matthew Howard, a professor at the University of North Carolina.
The researchers conducted a survey assessing substance use, psychiatric symptoms and anti-social behaviors among 723 adolescents in 32 residential treatment facilities. About 27 percent of youths who had been prescribed an inhaler used it excessively. In addition, one-third of all youths in the sample had used an asthma inhaler without a prescription.
Asthma inhaler misusers were more psychiatrically distressed and prone to suicidal thoughts and attempts than youths who did not misuse their inhalers to get high, the study shows. Many inhaler abusers reported positive feelings of euphoria, relaxation and increased confidence during or immediately following inhaler use. Adverse reactions noted included feeling more dizzy, headaches, rapid heartbeat, anxiety, irritability and confusion.
Rates of misuse were elevated among girls and whites in the sample, the study shows.
The findings appear in the recent issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
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