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Page URL: https://practice.orangatamariki.govt.nz/our-work/assessment-and-planning/assessments/specialist-topics/abusing-volatile-substances-huffing/
Printed: 24/04/2024
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Last updated: 06/11/2020

Abusing volatile substances (huffing)

We need to understand how abusing volatile substances can affect the safety and wellbeing of tamariki and rangatahi. We talk with te tamaiti and whānau or family and use screening tools and resources to help te tamaiti deal with substance abuse issues.

Upcoming changes for this guidance

This content will be strengthened so it more completely reflects our commitment to practice framed by te Tiriti o Waitangi, based on a mana-enhancing paradigm for practice, and drawing from ​Te Ao Māori principles of oranga to support mana tamaiti, whakapapa and whanaungatanga. We each need to consider how we can apply these principles to our practice when reading this guidance. The following resources provide support:
Practice for working effectively with Māori
Our practice approach

Volatile substances and how they are abused

Volatile substances are toxic chemicals commonly found in New Zealand households, such as poisons, fuel or cleaning products, and include fly spray, spray deodorants, petrol and paint. People can abuse these substances, particularly spray paint, lighter fuel, liquid petroleum gas (LPG), glue and nail polish remover, by deliberately breathing in or ‘huffing’ the gas or vapours.

Physical effects and risks of huffing

Huffing volatile substances is very dangerous and carries a risk of sudden death.

These substances cannot be inhaled safely and the possibility of serious harm and death remains for some time after inhalation.

Inhalants – effects, risks and guidelines | Alcohol Drug Helpline

Signs that te tamaiti may be huffing

Possible signs of volatile substance abuse are:

  • spots and sores around the mouth and nose
  • chemical smell on breath or clothing
  • hidden empty spray paint or solvent cans
  • paint stains on hands, face or clothes
  • te tamaiti or rangatahi becoming anxious, moody, irritable, withdrawn or angry
  • drop in school attendance
  • alterations to sleep patterns or eating patterns
  • persistently runny nose or eye irritation
  • mixing with new friends and hanging out in secluded places
  • hangover-type symptoms.

Engaging te tamaiti and whānau or family and assessing the impact of huffing

Huffing, like any drug use, involves a complex range of factors and issues and some of the signs te tamaiti or rangatahi may be huffing could be due to other life events. To understand and address these we talk with te tamaiti or rangatahi, their parents, caregivers, whānau or family and other professionals such as their teacher or school principal.

Help te tamaiti understand the effects of substance abuse

Many tamariki and rangatahi don’t know about the effects of substance abuse and the risks they are taking. We can help them to understand by talking them through information about substance abuse. There are many resources and services available to help. Consider whether te tamaiti or rangatahi could be supported by engaging (where available) with a specialist youth health service or by services available within their school.

Volatile substances | NZ Drug Foundation Te Puna Whakaiti Pāmamae Kai Whakapiri

Conversation planner | NZ Drug Foundation Te Puna Whakaiti Pāmamae Kai Whakapiri

Involve parents/caregivers, whānau or family

We involve parents/caregivers and whānau or family as part of managing risks and addressing needs.

We discuss our observations in supervision and during whānau or family consultations. This is important for working out what we need to focus on.

We need to consider what health assessments, such as Gateway Assessments, and specialist drug and alcohol services are required to help build a picture of strengths, risks and needs. Using tools such as SACs, Kessler and Suicide screens (SKS) helps us to assess drug use and its impact on te tamaiti.

Once we have assessed the impact of abusing volatile substance on te tamaiti, we can make a plan together to help te tamaiti back to safety and wellbeing.

Policy: Assessment

Child/young person and family consult

SACs, Kessler and Suicide screens (SKS)

Alcohol Drug Helpline


NZ Drug Foundation Te Puna Whakaiti Pāmamae Kai Whakapiri

Help with alcohol and drug problems | Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand