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Solvent Abuse amongst First Nations in Canada Term Paper

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Updated: Nov 14th, 2019

History of Solvent Abuse in First Nations

Inhalant abuse, which is also called solvent abuse, volatile substance abuse, bagging, and huffing, is inhalation of volatile drugs that are evaporated to achieve shifts in mental state. Solvent abuse is a serious global problem, which is particularly typical of marginalized and minority groups.

A number of social peculiarities of health also predetermine the drug consumption. The history of colonization has become the major underpinning for spread of inhalant abuse among aboriginal communities, leading to addiction and self-destruction.

The problem of inhalant abuse has been rigidly discussed over the last two decades. The aspects connected with solvent abuse have not been thoroughly investigated and, therefore, the issue is not properly discussed (Coleman et al., 2010). Additionally, many addicts often represent the members of a marginalized community, making them challengeable to learn. Solvent abuse among aboriginal communities, particularly in isolated areas, is highlighted.

Historians highlight problems among the Innu of Sheshatshio dating back to the nineteenth century, the period when these groups depended on European trades. At the threshold of twentieth century, the village tribes faced rigid competition from non-native traders who capture the market, leading to the advent of the Depression era that is followed by the crisis of fur industry (Clancy, 2004).

The municipal government imposed limitations on hunting and large areas of indigenous lands were flooded by Hydroelectric projects in the second half of the 70s century. Therefore, the history of constant repressions and restrictions has provided a solid background for emotional and psychological problems among the population.

Kinds of Solvent Abuse

There are different types of solvent abuse predetermined by the types of evaporating substances used by the addicts. Hence, there are volatile solvents, aerosols, gases, and nitrites (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2012). Volatile solvents include liquid substances that vaporize at different temperatures, including industrial products and office supply solvents. Aerosols are sprays containing solvents and propellants.

Household aerosols propellants, including paints, deodorant sprays, aerosols computer cleaning substances, and vegetable oil sprays, are among the mostly frequently used inhalants. Gases include medical anesthetics, commercial products, such as butane lighters, whipped cream sprays and, refrigerant gases.

Finally, nitrites are inhalants that contain butyl, cyclohexyl, and amyl nitrites (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2012). These substances are employed for medical procedures and are used as sexual enhancers. With regard to the types of solvent substance, addicts apply to different methods of consuming sprays and dispensers.

Effect on the Brain/Body

The influence of solvent abuse on brain and body is similar to that produced by alcohol consumption. At the initial stage, the symptoms of abuse involve euphoria, hallucinations, loss of appetite, lethargy, and blurred speech. This influence lasts for a couple of hours. Inhalant-addicted people can experience headaches, low energy, vomiting (Clancy, 2004).

Regular abuse can also cause nosebleeds, ear and throat infections. Aside from slight influences, the impact may be much more serious, including damage of such internal organs as live, kidneys, heart, and bone marrow (Clancy, 2004; Dell et al., 2011). Chronic sniffing often leads to poisoning and intoxication, which cannot be detected without professional medical examination.

Convulsions, neurological damage and mental dysfunction are among few outcomes that poisoning can cause. There is also a possible threat of lethal outcomes even if an individual tries inhalant drugs only once. Addicts can also be the victims of “sudden sniffing death”, the phase when heart is under the great pressure, resulting in irregular heartbeats, stroke, and death.

Sudden death from solvent abuse is often trigged once users are frightened, or in case they are engaged in fighting after inhaling drugs (Clancy, 2004). Regular inhaling can become the reason of risky actions, such jumping off from high constructions, causing trauma and death.

Rates among Aboriginal versus Rest of Population

According to Statistics Canada, over 68 % of children and 89 % of teenagers reported solvent abuse in total. The survey has also found that over 49 % of solvent abusers are Aboriginal children from 4 to 11, whereas 45 % of children from 12-15 are addicted to inhalants (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, 2012). Unlike Aboriginals, the number of solvent addicts among non-native youth is significantly lower, with 23 % and 18 % respectively (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, 2012).

According to the survey, over 2.4 % of students sniffed glue whereas 3% of learners recognized the use of other types of inhalants, including gasoline (Clancy, 2004). Due to the fact that inhalant drugs are highly-available, children have an easy access to them and, therefore, parents often fail to detect the fact of their children using inhalant substances, until it become a habit.

Historical Trauma Factors

In 1996, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples gave publicity to the experience of former students at Indian Residential schools. In 1998, the Canadian government declared the development of Aboriginal Action plan that can improve the situation in schools. The plan focused on introduction of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation and a Statement of Reconciliation.

In 2001, Indian Residential Schools were advanced as a separate department with the responsibility for highlighting the legacy of residential schools (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, 2012). Due to the increase in litigation cases, the government started examining alternative solutions to solve problems, which resulted in emergence of the National Resolution Framework, that contained resolution models for group and individuals who are need of psychological and mental support administered by the Health department in Canada.

The Indian act creates a number of challenges imposed by racist outdate statute. In particular, the problems are premised on invalid legislative that fails to address the root reasons for unequal treatment of solvent abuse among the Aboriginal population (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. 2012).

In response to the problems, Canadian government declared its intent to reconsider the provision of the Indian Act that would provide development of residential schools with focus on children’s active counseling (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, 2012). With regard to the above-presented issues, Residential School resolution can become an efficient tool for solving problems of inhalant abuse among First Nations children.

Socio-economic Reasons

Multi-generational affect of colonization and extreme pressure imposed by government has caused the loss of connection among Aboriginal population and decreased the importance of culture, language, spirituality, and traditions, which were heavily recognized among First Nations communities (Irvine et al., 2012). It is not surprising that poor self-esteem, identity crisis, and inhalant and substance abuse are among the prevailing attributes of social life among minority groups in Canada.

Abuse of volatile substances are predetermined by socioeconomic status and do not relate to nations’ ethnicity. At this point, Baydala (2010) explains, “unique social and health context, as well as the widespread nature of inhalant abuse in some community, has led to the development of culturally specific treatment programs” (447).

In addition, introducing the National Youth Solvent Abuse Program creates community-based intervention for youth solvent abusers. However, the program fails to address the problems that Aboriginal youth experience beyond the reserved territory (Austin, 2012). Although this population is addressed, the policy of accommodation is still premised on community awareness rather than on legal provisions.

Percentage of Youth Affected: Reserve versus Off-Reserve

In 2004 study, over 67 % of individuals reported use of inhalant among children from 12 to 16 years. 19 % of people abuse solvent substance art age 17 (Dell n. d. p. 3). The analysis of solvent abuse situation among Aboriginal youth indicates that higher rates of addicts are presented due to such aspects as poverty, unemployment, poor social conditions, and family breakdown (Dell, n. d. p. 3). Off-Reserve students experience much greater challenges while facing the tension on the part of non-native population.

Loss of connection with their families does not allow them to adjust to new conditions and reconcile with new lifestyles (Irfan et al., 2012). According to Statistics Canada (2012), aboriginal people residing in off-research areas suffer much greater mental disorders and health problems and, as a result, the case of solvent abuse as much higher either.

Northern versus Southern Reserves – Reasons for Difference

Percentage Leading to Suicide

The rates of suicide among Aboriginal people are predetermined by cultural and economic factors. As a result, the percentage of Aboriginal youth committed suicide is six times higher, as compared to non-native youth. In Northern communities, the percentage of youth inclined to commit suicide is much higher than in Southern communities, which is premised on cultural acceptance trends and environmental issues (Irfan et al., 2012).

Additionally, due to the fact that Southern region tend to receive more money for financing anti-abuse programs from the government, the situation with solvent abuse is much better.


Dell, C., Youth Volatile Solvent Abuse. CCSA-CCLAT. Web.

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Clancy, N. (2004). Shelshatshiu: An Innu Community’s Battle with Addiction. CBC News. Web.

Coleman, H., Charles, G., and Collins, J. (2001). Inhalant Use by Canadian Aboriginal Youth. Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse. 10(3), 1-20.

Dell, C. A., Seguin, M. Hopkins, C., Tempier, R., Mehl-Madrona, L., Dell, D., Duncan, R., and Mosier, K. (2011). From Benzos to Berries: Treatment Offered at an Aboriginal Youth Solvent Abuse Treatment Centre Relays the Importance of Culture. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. 56(2): 75-82.

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Irvine, J., Kitty, D., & Pekeles, G. (2012). Healing winds: Aboriginal child and youth health in Canada. Paediatrics & Child Health (1205-7088), 17(7), 363-364.

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