Inhalant use among incarcerated adolescents in the United States: Prevalence, characteristics, and correlates of use

Matthew O. Howard, Robert L. Balster, Linda B. Cottler, Li Tzy Wu, Michael G. Vaughn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To characterize patterns and correlates of inhalant use among incarcerated youth. Method: Residents (N = 723) of 27 Missouri Division of Youth Services facilities completed interviews assessing substance use, psychiatric symptoms, antisocial traits, trauma, suicidality, and criminality. Results: Participants averaged 15.5 (S.D. = 1.2) years of age, were ethnically diverse, and predominantly male. More than one-third (36.9%) reported lifetime inhalant use; 47.9% of users had tried four or more inhalant products. Comparatively high rates of use were observed for Hispanic and small town/rural youth. Commonly abused agents included gasoline (22%), permanent markers (15%), computer "air duster," (15%) and spray paint (12%). Inhalant users evidenced significantly higher levels of criminal behavior, antisocial attitudes, current psychiatric symptoms, earlier onset of offending and substance use, and more extensive histories of head injury, kidney disease, hormonal problems, mental illness, suicidality, trauma, and substance-related problems than nonusers. In multiple logistic regression models, race/ethnicity, geographic area of residence, fearlessness, suicidality, and polydrug use distinguished inhalant users and nonusers. Measures of cognitive impairment, impulsivity, fearlessness, blame externalization, polydrug use, and substance-related problems were positively associated with lifetime frequency of inhalant use. Conclusions: Inhalant use was widespread in this sample and associated with serious physical and mental health impairments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-209
Number of pages13
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2008 Mar 1

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Grateful acknowledgments to NIDA for grants DA 15929 and DA 1556, which funded this research and to Kirk Foster, Michael Dayton, and Jon Zelner for their assistance with data collection, data entry, and project management and to Mark Steward, Director, Gail Mumford, Deputy Director, and Alicia Jenkins, Dual Jurisdiction/Case Management Coordinator of the Missouri Division of Youth Services.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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