Inhalant Abuse is Deadly: Signs You NEED to Know

Identifying Inhalant Abuse

Inhalant abuse, also known as huffing, is a way for young children and teens to get high at a much lower cost. Many times, the inhalants used are found easily in the household. These may include items as simple as spray paints, markers, and glues. 

While it’s often more common for parents to worry about other drugs, inhalants do pose a threat to children and teens. Additionally, inhalant abuse exists among adults.

Knowing the signs of huffing, inhalant abuse, and inhalant addiction, is critical in addiction identification and intervention. With inhalants being so readily available in so many normal, household items, being knowledgeable about what to look for is of extreme importance.

Concerned about someone who is abusing inhalants? Our helpline is free and confidential. Call (888) 906-0952 or submit a question.

Table of Contents

Huffing, Bagging, Sniffing, and Snorting

What is huffing? What is bagging, sniffing, and snorting? Inhalants are volatile substances that produce chemical vapor which can be inhaled to induce a mind-altering effect.

These effects can come from various products easily bought and found in the home or workplace. These items may include spray paints, markers, glue, cleaning fluids, or electronic cleaners.

Most would not typically think of these products as potential drugs since they are not intended for getting high. When an individual utilizes any of these substances or ones similar, it’s called inhalant abuse.

Inhalants are mostly used by young children and teens. However, there are cases of adults becoming addicted to inhalants.

Common names used among those using inhalants include bold, laughing gas, poppers, snappers, and whippets.

Huffing, bagging, sniffing, and snorting is different methods in which an abuser of inhalants may use the different chemicals. Huffing refers to a rag or cloth soaked in the substance and held over the mouth or nose.

Bagging is where the substance is sprayed into a plastic bag over the head of the abuser for inhalation. Sniffing or snorting involves the direct inhalation of fumes.

Glading is the abuse of air freshener aerosols.

Dusting involves the direct spraying of aerosol cleaners into the mouth or nose.

Both are newer in the world of inhalant abuse.

In short, although many substances can be inhaled, the term inhalants describes a variety of substances whose main common characteristic is that they are rarely if ever, taken by any other route than inhalation.

To understand more easily, in particular for parents, all forms of inhalant abuse will be referred to as huffing from here on. So many terms, or names, can confuse an already confusing situation.

The Four Classes of Inhalants

So far, the items being abused mostly by the younger children and teens, have been referred to as inhalants. However, breaking down the inhalants even further will provide you with a better understanding of what different common chemicals are and how they are grouped. For simplification, although many can be used, inhalants are broken down into just four classes. They are the following:

Volatile solvents

Volatile solvents  are liquids that vaporize at room temperature. They are found in a multitude of inexpensive, easily available products used for common household and industrial purposes. These include paint thinners and removers, dry-cleaning fluids, degreasers, gasoline, glues, correction fluids, and felt-tip markers.


Aerosols are sprays that contain propellants and solvents. They include spray paints, deodorant and hair sprays, vegetable oil sprays for cooking, and fabric protector sprays.


Gases include medical anesthetics as well as gases used in household or commercial products. Medical anesthetics include ether, chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide (commonly called “laughing gas”). Nitrous oxide is the most abused of these gases and can be found in whipped cream dispensers and products that boost octane levels in racing cars. Other households or commercial products containing gases include butane lighters, propane tanks, and refrigerants.


Nitrites often are considered a special class of inhalants. Unlike most other inhalants, which act directly on the central nervous system (CNS), nitrites act primarily to dilate blood vessels and relax the muscles. While other inhalants are used to alter mood, nitrites are used primarily as sexual enhancers.

Knowledge is Important

For most, all of this is a shock; especially the nitrites when talking about young children and teens. Remember, even though the high inhalants produce only last a few minutes, individuals make it last by continuing to inhale again and again over several hours. This is where the danger comes in.

Not only are there side effects, physical symptoms, potential life-threatening hazards, and possible overdose, the good news is repeated inhalant abuse rarely leads to addiction as a substance use disorder (SUD).

If caught in time, your children will be able to live long, productive, normal lives without SUDs or long-term damage. However, realistically, knowing the risks and dangers helps to evaluate what may be going on with each child.

Signs and Symptoms of Huffing (Inhalant Abuse)

Early identification and intervention are the best ways to stop inhalant abuse before it causes serious health consequences. Parents, educators, family, physicians, and other health care practitioners should be alert to the following signs of abuse:

  • Chemical odors on breath or clothing
  • Paint or other stains on the face, hands, or clothes
  • Hidden empty spray paint or solvent containers, and chemical-soaked rags or clothing
  • Drunk or disoriented appearance
  • Slurred speech
  • Nausea or loss of appetite
  • Inattentiveness, lack of coordination, irritability, and depression.

The symptoms of abuse can be broken down into two categories: short-term effects and long-term effects. Hopefully, in becoming aware of these signs, parents and professionals will be able to recognize huffing abuse and find help for the child before long-term effects are a concern.

However, in case the abuse has been going on for a while, knowing and understanding the potential hazards of long-term use and identifying the behaviors, signs, and symptoms of all levels will assist in preventing irreversible damage and possible death.

Short-term effects may include

  • slurred or distorted speech
  • lack of coordination
  • euphoria (feeling high)
  • dizziness
  • light-headed
  • hallucinations (images or sensations believed to be real but are not)
  • delusions (false beliefs)
  • uninhibited behaviors (less self-conscious, less in control)
  • vomiting
  • drowsy for several hours
  • headache lasting a while
  • potential sexual pleasure by expanding and relaxing blood vessels

Long-term effects of inhalants may include

  • liver and kidney damage
  • hearing loss
  • bone marrow damage
  • loss of coordination and limb spasms (nerve damage)
  • delayed behavioral development
  • brain damage
  • unsafe sexual practices which increase the risk of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis

Withdrawal effects may include

  • nausea
  • loss of appetite
  • sweating
  • problems sleeping
  • mood changes

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Inhalant Abuse Research and Treatments

In 1994, approximately 1% of those 15 and older had used inhalants to get high. By 2004, this had risen to 1.3% and in 2014 to over 2% which is staggering.

The percentage may not seem to be great, but the importance is this is 2% of teenagers; those in middle and high school.

By 2007, 1.1% of youth aged 12 to 13 had used inhalants in the last month.

Of adults suffering currently or had suffered from an active SUD, over 66% were children abusing inhalants when they first started getting high.

Inhalant abuse is also much more common among children and teens who have been physically or sexually abused, neglected, homeless, or hungry.

In-kind, it is also more prevalent in rural communities and isolated communities with high rates of unemployment, poverty, and violence.

Also, these environments combined with inhalant abuse show poor school performance, poor self-esteem, increased suicidal thoughts and suicides, mental illnesses, and other SUDs.

Inhalant abuse has become an international problem and is closely linked to detriments to health in many countries.

Sudden sniffing death syndrome has become a fear among parents of younger children and teens as the reality of this possibility grows.

The effect on the central nervous system can cause instant respiratory arrest, hypoxia-lack of oxygen to the brain, and heart stoppage in several ways.

Chronic abuse has shown to have drastic and irreversible neurological and psychological effects along with a variety of motor, cognitive, and sensory challenges.

Family, peers, teachers, counselors, and others should be made aware of the signs and symptoms of inhalant abuse and how to refer children and youth who may be at risk.

Greater social dysfunction, particularly due to the young age of inhalant abusers, therefore treatment programs are required to have detoxification, use of a peer-patient advocate system, development of strengths and skills, and appropriate transition back to your family and communities.

Family therapy, parenting classes, parent support groups, and youth social skills programs reduce the risk of huffing relapse.

How To Make a Difference

Everyone plays a role in the prevention, signs, and symptoms of inhalant use/abuse. If you have a loved one who is abusing inhalants it’s important to reach out for help and learn what treatment options are available.

It’s important to be knowledgeable and on guard to detect the symptom of inhalant abuse in case it arises within your family or friend group.

The medical community must be aware of key points including trends, signs and symptoms, screening techniques, local resources for prevention, intervention, and treatment, types and examples of abused chemicals, signs and dangers of inhalant abuse, and combating misconception about the lack of danger with inhalants and how casual inhalant abuse is dangerous and can be deadly.

With this knowledge in hand, health professionals need to build community connections and play a guiding role in creating a network of community care for inhalant abusers.

This can be to guide policy in this area, advocate for the replacement of these dangerous chemicals with less harmful alternatives, and advocate for and contribute to research that helps everyone better understand inhalant abuse, why and how it happens, and better prevention, recognitions, and treatment.

Have questions about what where to get help? Call us at (888) 906-0952. We will give you a list of options!


[1] Inhalants Fact Sheet 
[2] Inhalant Long-term Effects Study

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Susana is an addiction and recovery life expert and has over 7 years of recovery from drug and alcohol addiction that nearly claimed her life. It's her number one goal to provide educational resources to help those who are struggling with addiction find their way out.


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