Inhalant abuse is a less common method of drug abuse, but consuming poisonous gases intended for industrial work can lead to severe physical and mental health issues. While this topic appeals on a lesser level, it’s knowledge one should have in case either themselves, or a loved one becomes addicted to inhalants.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse 9.8 percent of adults ages 18-25 make up this classification of users. There are other studies showing that 10th-grade children (6.1 percent) commonly experiment as well. When students enter eighth grade, 1 in 5 of their classmates will have experimented with deadly inhalants.

Inhalants can be solvents, aerosols, gases, and nitrates. For as long as history can depict, there have been signs of problematic inhalant addiction and abuse that date back to Babylonian times. In the United States during Prohibition, ether was a commonly used intoxicant that people used in replacement of alcohol to get high. But it wasn’t until later on in the century when the abuse of inhalants made its reputation.

Today, as previously stated, this lesser-known addiction is causing problems in our communities for adolescents and young adults. During the experimentation phase of their lives, obtaining alcohol or street drugs proves to be difficult. Inhalants are commonly used household items that can be used to get high. While use is low in the population as a whole, there are no geographical or socioeconomic boundaries associated with its use. Studies have shown that children in homeless populations around the globe are more susceptible to using these drugs.

The most commonly sought out inhalant is amyl nitrite and fluorinated hydrocarbons. They are what is referred to on the street as “whippets” and “poppers.” These are easily purchased at gas stations or tobacco stores and are marketed as whipped cream chargers. This sheds light on their easy accessibility. More needs to be done for regulation of these products.

What are Inhalants? How are They Misused?

The term “inhalant” has a few different meanings, but in the case of inhalant addiction, we are referring to the inhalation of a solvent or other material that produces vapors that users inhale to get high. These are found in several household products that serve a legitimate purpose but still hold the risk of abuse. The National Inhalant Prevention Coalition shows that children are quickly discovering that these common household products are not only inexpensive to obtain but very easy to hide. Paint and glue are the most commonly used products, but there are thousands of household chemicals that can be used as well.

Inhalants produce psychoactive and mind-altering effects that cause less than desirable side effects, including belligerence, apathy, impaired functions, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. The high that it creates is so powerful that even tasks such as walking become dangerous.

Of all the ways it can affect you, the leading cause of death from inhalant use is trauma immediately after consumption. There are reports of extremely cold gases freezing lungs, but the leading cause of death by inhalants results from a loss of consciousness, seizures, and Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome.

The most common inhalants are:

Paint Thinners & Degreasers

Paint thinner is a solvent commonly used to thin oil-based paints and clean up after use. These are considered to be “mineral spirits.”


Nitrites work by dilating blood vessels and relaxing muscles. These can be used as sexual enhancers, which puts these in a different class of inhalants. The street names for nitrites are “poppers” or “snappers.” Nitrites were once prescribed by doctors to treat heart pain but are now prohibited by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.


Gases such as nitrous oxide (laughing gas) are more often associated with dental surgery, but this can be abused as well. Other gases such as ether, chloroform, and butane lighters are also known inhalants

How Inhalants Work

Inhalants create an instant high that results in euphoria and this stems from the central nervous system. Inhaling affects many areas in the brain, and because of this, inhalants act as depressants once the high fades. It’s a very short-lived high that requires many uses in a given session to keep the desired level of intoxication.

Due to that constant use, inhalants may cause extreme dizziness by starving the user of oxygen which, in turn, causes brain fog. As aforementioned in a previous section, there runs the risk of severe health implications when motor skills are so dramatically affected. Continued use causes aggression and potential hallucinations in the user, which puts everyone around the person at risk. Hallucinations can cause the belief that the user is in an alternate reality and the person can partake in superhuman acts that could result in death.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that “a number of commonly abused volatile solvent anesthetic gases have neurobehavioral effects and mechanisms of action similar to those produced by CNS depressants, which include alcohol and medications such as sedatives and anesthetics.” With that, these drugs cause similar negative effects on the body that cause harm from other depressants.

Inhalants take the same path when it comes to illicit drugs in that they activate dopamine in the system, the body’s natural pleasure center. The one problem with inhalants that is less common with other drugs is that permanent and potentially fatal effects can occur after a single-use. While brain damage has been linked to long-term use, the user can severely reduce any damage to the body by seeking help to stop.

What are the Effects of Inhalant Abuse?

Identifying an inhalant addiction can be a tough task, but there are outward warning signs to look for. These can develop in physical and psychological ways such as:

  • Inattentiveness, a lack of coordination, irritability, and depression
  • Vomiting or loss of appetite
  • Slurred speech
  • Hidden spray paint or solvent containers, or chemical-soaked rags/clothing
  • Appearing drunk or disoriented
  • Paint or other stains on the face, hands, or clothes
  • Chemical odors on breath or clothing

As inhalant abuse grows more important in the user’s life, the behaviors that are shown will become easier to identify. This is a substance that can be hidden easier than others, but more long-term consequences include:

  • Aggressive behavior
  • Increased anger
  • Deviant behavior
  • Delinquency
  • School truancy
  • Antisocial behavior

In all cases, early detection is crucial in saving someone’s life and preventing further damage. If you or anyone you know has any of the symptoms above, seeking treatment can help provide a better life.

The Inhalant Rehab Process

There is no cure for addiction as a whole, but treatment allows users to rebuild their lives after substance abuse. Treatment will establish tools that allow the user to manage triggers in the real world. Users will feel the urge to return to inhalant use, but treatment gives the confidence and peace of mind needed to fight this battle.

While most treatment centers don’t specialize in inhalant abuse, there are a select few that are equipped to deal with the complex problems that arise from inhalants. The National Inhalant Prevention Coalition has suggested that chronic users be given a dual diagnosis of chemical dependency as well as mental illness.

Before entering a facility, the user will require a thorough examination to discuss the complications and damages to the body. These could include central nervous system damage, kidney and liver irregularity, lead poisoning, heart and lung distress, and nutritional problems. Once this is completed, the user will learn how these chemicals are stored within the fatty tissues in the body, and how they will experience residual problems from use for an extended time. Due to this major factor, it could extend the time inside an inpatient or residential facility exponentially.

At this stage, the former user will begin working with a counselor to create a treatment plan that involves support groups, additional therapy, ways to treat their mental health disorder and start building confidence for a sober tomorrow.

Inhalant Statistics

  • According to the Alliance for Consumer Education, 59% of children are aware of friends huffing at age 12.
  • Inhalants tend to be the drug that is first tried by children
  • 1 in 4, or 25% of students in America has intentionally abused a common household product to get high by the time they reach eighth grade
  • More than 2.6 million children ages 12-17 use an inhalant each year to get high
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