Last Updated: Friday, January 06, 2023

Volatile Substance Abuse (VSA) – a learning and teaching resource

What is this?

Education Scotland and Re-​Solv worked together to develop a suite of learning/teaching materials to raise awareness about substance abuse.

Who is this for?

School teachers, community learning and development workers and college lecturers.​ 

​​​​​This resource comprises a range of materials that can be used within a learning and teaching context. The topic itself is a contemporary real-life issue. The materials around which the educational resource is built will help to raise awareness of the issue. The resources will need to be adapted to a digital/blended platform for family learning and parents/carers groups. 

Explore this resource

There is potential to use these materials in an interdisciplinary way. The subject matter can augment topics covered in the curriculum that focus on:

  • health and wellbeing
  • product safety / consumer protection
  • science and the physical impact of volatile substance abuse and dangerous chemicals
  • critical literacy skills

In a community setting, these materials will be of interest to groups and projects working on social issues, as well as lifestyle and consumer choices within a learning context.

The materials will provide an overview of VSA for practitioners, for cascade outwards to a number of audiences. This resource could be used with older pupils, in youth settings, in community education and with parents/families. The practitioner can adapt sessions to be audience appropriate for younger children/special educational needs using the core information within this resource.

The topic of VSA is fully embedded in drugs policy, Curriculum for Excellence, Health and Safety Executive, Road to Recovery, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Getting It Right For Every Child, Trading Standards, Police Services and other agendas. Practitioners are required to provide education of this uniquely dangerous type of substance misuse.

Improvement questions

These improvement questions could relate to the learning, learner engagement and staff engagement:

  • How well do we make effective use of available resources and information to inform the learning offer?
  • How well do we enable learners to engage in learning?
  • How well do all staff understand their role and responsibility in supporting learners’ health and wellbeing?

How to use this resource

Education Scotland and Re-Solv worked together to develop a suite of learning/teaching materials. The approach presented here shows how schools/services can work with organisations to develop learning and teaching approaches to social issues.

Each visual resource is accompanied by notes or a video to develop discussion and provide learning points. For example - the SACKI (Solvent Abuse Can Kill Instantly) logo. 


re-solve 01

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1) Prompt discussion for a few minutes on who has seen this logo, and where.

Likely pupil/audience prior knowledge responses are:

Aerosols (responses may be in naming types or brands of aerosols, which is the key point of the activity: that they know, use and are surrounded with the products, which are ubiquitous in most people's daily life). Household cleaning products, nail polish remover, petrol, Tippex likely to mentioned. Older audiences may include Nitrous Oxide/Laughing gas.

A suggested key point to reflect back from the facilitator would be to reiterate that products which can kill instantly are highly accessible, known and used.

Extended discussion point/activity:

  • Do we need to know about these products?
  • How do we learn more?

Key points to raise from this:

  • Read labels, then when informed, safe use can occur.

Solvent Abuse education is not as straightforward as, for example, tobacco education. Tobacco is a singular product. Solvent abuse can be undertaken using a number of different, easily accessible products therefore it is necessary to have a rudimentary understanding of some of these.

Key Learning Points:

  • Identification of what VSA/Solvent Abuse is. VSA is frequently misunderstood and thought of as a problem of the past, when in fact the products abused have simply changed over time.
  • Solvent abuse falls within drugs education and policy, including the CfE, but the substances used are not drugs. This is a critical element for teaching and learning, and one of the reasons VSA is so dangerous.

Re-solve 02​

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  1. Find out what the audience knows, what thoughts/knowledge has been prompted by the information and image.
  2. Spilt into groups of 4/5, ask groups to list at least 3 types of products that they would now understand as being products of potential VSA
  3. Whole group discussion:
  • Why are we learning from the labels?
  • What will/can we do with what we’ve learned?
  • Will there be anything the group take home/into their communities and share from their learning from looking at products?
  • Gain a commitment to share some knowledge with family members possibly.

Re-solve 03

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Re-solve 04

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Re-solve 05

This video covers slides 8, 9 and 10 of the VSA presentation. Practitioners can use the whole clip or use aspects of the clip to accompany the learning.

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PowerPoint presentation: Volatile Substance Abuse - An Overview for Practitioners (806 KB)

PowerPoint presentation: What is sniffing? (4.3 MB)

PDF file: A Wee Skoosh - Pupils FAQ (1.2 MB)