How worried should parents be about helium?

In February, a 14-year-old Oregon girl died shortly after inhaling helium at a drinking party. Parents already have so many things to worry about—do they have to worry about helium, too? The short answer is not really. Helium is not as dangerous as alcohol and other drugs, which teens are much more likely to use than helium.

Helium is nontoxic, does not cause a high and rarely causes injuries or deaths. When someone breathes in any gas from a high-pressure tank, it can cause frostbite wherever the gas comes into contact with skin or mouth. It can harm the person’s lungs or cause an air bubble to get trapped in a blood vessel. This could happen with helium, nitrous oxide or another gas.

According to the CDC, alcohol remains the most commonly abused drug among youth in the U.S. Teens who are drinking or taking drugs are more likely to make poor decisions and engage in risky behaviors like breathing in gas from a high-pressure tank. In 2008 there were about 190,000 emergency room visits for persons under 21 years of age for injuries and other problems related to alcohol use.

What can parents do to address and prevent drug abuse among teens?

The Partnership at and the Treatment Research Institute recently released their 6 Parenting Practices, a guide to 6 research-supported parenting practices to reduce the chances your child will develop a drug or alcohol problem. Check it out. It has some very practical suggestions.

Remember, call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222 if someone who has used helium or alcohol is not feeling well or if you have questions about helium, alcohol or other possible poisons.

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