Inhalant Abuse Effects

Inhalants are a group of substances that release chemical vapors that are inhaled, and only inhaled, to produce psychoactive effects. Many products commonly found in the home and in workplace contain substances that can be inhaled to get high, such spray paints, glues and cleaning fluids.

Adolescents aged 12-17 are among those most likely experience inhalant abuse, and of all drugs, inhalants are the drugs most likely abused exclusively by adolescents. Of the nearly one million people who tried inhalants for the first time in the previous year, almost 70% were under 18.

The Four Categories of Inhalants:

Volatile Solvents (liquids that vaporize at room temperature):

  • Paint thinners or removers
  • Degreasers
  • Dry-cleaning fluids
  • Gasoline, and lighter fluid
  • Art and office supply solvents (including correction fluid)
  • Felt-tip marker fluid
  • Electronic contact cleaners
  • Glue

Aerosols (sprays that contain propellants and solvents):

  • Spray paints
  • Hair or deodorant sprays
  • Fabric protector sprays
  • Aerosol computer cleaning products
  • Vegetable oil sprays

Gases (found in household or commercial products and/or used as medical anesthetics):

  • Butane lighters
  • Propane tanks
  • Whipped cream aerosols or dispensers
  • Refrigerant gases
  • Medical anesthetics, such as
    • Ether
    • Chloroform
    • Halothane
    • Nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”)

Nitrites (inhalants used primarily as sexual enhancers):

  • Cyclohexyl
  • Butyl
  • Amyl nitrites (commonly known as “poppers”)

Studies show that the inhalant of choice depends on the user’s age. Adolescents aged 12–15 most commonly abuse glue, shoe polish, spray paints, gasoline and lighter fluid; age 16 or 17 typically use nitrous oxide or whippets; nitrites are the inhalants most commonly abused among adults.

Inhalants are inhaled through the nose or mouth in a variety of ways, (which is called huffing) including sniffing or snorting fumes from a container, spraying aerosols directly into the nose or mouth, or placing an inhalant-soaked rag in the mouth. Users may also inhale fumes from a plastic or paper bag containing an inhalant.

Effects of Inhalant Abuse

Because the high lasts just a few minutes, users extend their effects by continually repeating the process over several hours. The effects are similar to those of alcohol — slurred speech, lack of coordination, euphoria and dizziness, and light-headedness. Hallucinations and delusions can also result.

Inhalants deprive the body of oxygen, creating a condition known as hypoxia, which damages cells throughout the body and especially the brain cells. Someone who repeatedly uses inhalants may lose the ability to learn new things or may have a hard time carrying on simple conversations, may have muscle spasms or tremors, and may have permanent impairment of basic motor skills. Sniffing highly concentrated amounts of the chemicals in solvents or aerosol sprays can directly induce heart failure and death within minutes of a session of repeated inhalation. Deliberate inhalation from a paper or plastic bag, or in an enclosed area, greatly increases the chances of suffocation.

If you feel you or your loved one must be placed in a rehabilitation treatment center for inhalant abuse, please call 888-373-5963 or fill out a patient placement form and The Way Out Recovery will aid in placement.