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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: When I read your column about "huffing" chemicals, I had to respond.

I was a teen-age solvent abuser. For most of my early school days, I was an overachiever. I was not popular, but I had one or two good friends and was active in Scouting and volunteer activities. Because I was into books and getting good grades, by junior high I was teased and beaten up by my schoolmates. High school brought more of the same merciless harassment. I began to withdraw into solitary activities and discovered model building.

My descent into hell began innocently. I loved to build model cars, boats and planes. I discovered that the fumes from the glue gave me a buzz. Soon I was buying as much as a tube of model glue a day and huffing the fumes. I staggered around in a fog most of the time, couldn't remember things, and my grades slipped badly.

I heard something on the news about kids who had died as a result of sniffing Pam. I decided to try that as well, secretly hoping it would kill me. I huffed a number of other aerosol products, too. In my depression, I tried to kill myself by taking an overdose of aspirin. No luck. After the second overdose, a friend began dragging me along to activities and events and focused my attention on other things. My depression lifted, I managed to pull myself together, and I finished high school near the top of my class.

A couple of years later depression set in again. I dropped out of life and began huffing glue again. I huffed myself into unconsciousness and even a couple of seizures. Paranoia and hallucinations became the norm. I woke up once and found myself carrying on a conversation with a tree -- yes, it was answering back! The police were called when I was found running around with a knife, sure someone was out to get me. I was hospitalized on at least three occasions.

Fast-forward 20 years: What do I have to show for my stupidity today? I stutter, and confuse similar-sounding words in conversation. My hands shake. I frequently have problems remembering things for more than a few minutes. Worse yet, I'm now allergic to fragranced items including fabric softeners, detergent, hand lotion, perfume, cologne, hairspray and household cleaning items. Did you know that perfumes contain toxic chemicals such as toluene -- the same stuff that's in model glue?

Even though chemicals make me horribly ill, the craving to abuse them never quits! On a good day, I hate myself for the damage I've done to my brain and body. On a bad day, I wish I had succeeded in committing suicide years ago.

Parents: Pay attention to your children and their behavior. Have your children taken an unusual interest in being alone? Does their breath, clothes or room smell funny? Do they have balance problems while walking across a room? Difficulty sleeping? No appetite? Paranoia? Grades falling? Apathetic? Personal hygiene lacking? Do you find plastic bags with strange-looking dried-up white stuff in them? Your children could be abusing glue or aerosol products!

Get them help -- and don't take "no" for an answer. Abusing household products is as dangerous as abusing illegal drugs. -- SENSELESS IN SEATTLE

DEAR SENSELESS: You may never know how many people you have helped today by giving such a graphic warning to teens and their parents. Your letter is unmistakable proof that substance abuse may mask an even deeper problem, and a caring, tuned-in parent should not minimize or ignore it.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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