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Substance Abuse

When Inhalant Abuse Develops an Addiction

The inhalant category of drugs represents a broad spectrum of substances of solvents, aerosol sprays, gases, and nitrites that can only be inhaled. Inhalants present a challenge to youth because they are easy to obtain, such as spray paint, glues, markers, and other cleaning supplies. Inhalants are psychoactive chemicals that, when in inhaled, give a short-lived high. Of course, most of the products mentioned are not manufactured with the intent to get high, but when used for that specific purpose, they are labeled as inhalants.

Teens and pre-teens are more likely to abuse inhalants because they are easy to obtain and experiment with compared to other mood-altering drugs. Just because inhalants are legal and easy to get, does not make them in anyway safer. In fact, those who abuse inhalants can suffer from what is called “sudden sniffing death syndrome” where the heart immediately stops due to the sudden and unexpected change in rhythm after an inhalant drug is introduced. Inhalants can damage many different parts of the brain including the cerebral cortex, cerebellum, and ophthalmic nerve. In the body, inhalants can cause problems in the blood, lungs, heart, liver, kidneys, and muscles.

Abuse of inhalants presents its own unique challenges and obstacles; however, it is no challenge that individualized substance abuse treatment cannot take on. Individualized treatment can greatly help an individual through therapy to understand why they are using inhalants, what the true dangers are, and how they can step into the future inhalant-free. Finding help for an individual who is abusing inhalants is imperative due to the serious dangers and risks that come along with the abuse.

Inhalant FAQ’s

What are inhalants?

Inhalants are chemical substances that are inhaled to produce a psychoactive or mind-altering effect. They can be found in everyday household products.

What are inhalants’ origin?

Over a 1,000 different products can be used as inhalants, such as felt tip markers, cooking spray, typewriter correction fluid, spray paint, butane, air conditioning refrigerant, and air freshener.

What are inhalants’ common street names?

Some common street names include Rush, Huff, Whippets, and Gluey.

How are inhalants abused?

Generally, the chemicals being abused as inhalants are not typically found in substances that are meant to be inhaled as part of their intended use. The gaseous chemicals released from these substances are inhaled a few different ways. “Sniffing” or “snorting” the substance directly. “Bagging” a substance and then inhaling the fumes collected in the plastic or paper bag. Breathing from a balloon filled with inhalants, or by putting an inhalant-soaked rag over the mouth and then inhaling, is called “huffing”.

What are inhalants’ effects on the mind?

Inhalants affect the parts of the brain responsible for hearing, motor coordination, thinking, and seeing. Inhalants can cause cognitive abnormalities such as mild impairment and dementia.

What are inhalants’ effects on the body?

Physical effects of inhalants include slurred speech, dizziness, problems with motor coordination, euphoria, weight loss, inattentiveness, irritability, muscle weakness, disorientation, depression, CNS damage, sores on the mouth, runny eyes and nose, dazed appearance, loss of appetite, chemical odor on breath, anxiety, excitability, and damage to internal organs.

What are inhalants’ overdose effects?

Since abusers try to lengthen the time of their high to several hours, they often suffer loss of consciousness and death. Additionally, abusers can die from a single, first time use; it’s called “sudden sniffing death”. An overdose can cause death by asphyxiation, which happens when the oxygen in the lungs is displaced by the chemical being inhaled.

Which drugs cause similar effects as inhalants?

An inhalant high shares similar characteristics as alcohol intoxication.

What are the withdrawal effects of inhalants?

The withdrawal effects of inhalants abuse include nervousness, hallucinations, headaches, muscular cramps, hand tremors, excessive sweating, chills, and abdominal pains.

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Commonly Abused Inhalants

Solvents & Gases

Solvents and gases are carbon-based inhalants that produce vapor with similar effects to alcohol or anesthetics when inhaled. Common household products include glues, paints, nail polish remover, dry cleaning liquids, and de-greasers.

This type of inhalant can be found in almost any household, which makes it easier for pre-teens and teens to access. When the vapors from these products are inhaled via the nose and mouth, they produce intoxicating effects.


Aerosols too produce gases that have similar affects to alcohol or anesthetics when inhaled. The common household Aerosol products that can be inhaled and abused are insect repellants, hair spray, cooking sprays, and spray deodorants.

Pre-teens are more likely to begin abusing these because they are more readily available than others. Aerosols present the same dangers as other inhalants, and help should be sought immediately if someone is found to be abusing them.

Cleaning Agents or Food Products

Almost every household carries a variety of cleaning supplies and many would never think that they have potential for abuse. However, they most certainly can. Teens and pre-teens are more likely to begin experimenting with cleaning agents such as whipped cream canister, air fresheners, oven cleaner, or almost any other cleaning supply that is in a compressed canister. Cleaning agents are cheap and readily available in almost any household.

Nitrous Oxide (Whip-its)

Nitrous Oxide is laughing-gas but is most popularly known as “Whip-its.” Whip-its are legal in many states, where canisters and refillable cartridges are often sold in smoke-shops or in other locations. Nitrous Oxide has a high potential for abuse and can leave the brain deprived of essential oxygen, resulting in brain damage and nerve damage. Nitrous Oxide is also the same chemical that can be inhaled from whipped cream cans.

Medical Detox

Effective medical detox experts focus on taking the discomfort out of the detox and withdrawal process. We understand that each patient has different needs. Patients can usually choose to either undergo medical detox or social detox. You deserve an effective and realistic addiction treatment plan. Learn More

Intensive Outpatient

Different outpatient programs, such as intensive outpatient and evening intensive outpatient programs, can help patients receive treatment while living at home. Connecting you to a safe and therapeutic program is our top priority. Learn More

Residential Treatment

Residential facilities are the perfect place to start your journey to recovery. At high-quality residential treatment centers, expert clinicians and medical providers assess your needs and provide an individualized plans tailored to your needs. Learn More

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Sign, Symptoms & Common Behaviors of Inhalant Abuse

Identifying frequent inhalant abusers can be quite easy. Keep in mind that there are many different types of inhalants, so signs and symptoms will vary, although inhalant abuse is usually easy to detect.

Noticeable ones are slurred speech, loss of motor control, nausea, drunk-type behavior, hallucinations, dilated pupils, loss of appetite, facial rash, jerking movements, swelling of the hands and feet, blistering skin, strange chemical smells, and an individual may have paint on their face or clothing.

You may find bags left behind with gases, solvents, or paints in them, or rags that have been dipped in gasoline, paint thinner, or degreaser. If an individual is abusing nitrous oxide, you may find empty air cans, or canisters.

Inhalant abuse is difficult to hide for the frequent abuser, especially because of the high that comes with its use that leave many feeling disoriented and confused.

Reliable Sources Could be One Step Closer to a Fulfilling Life Drug From Mind Altering Substances

Deciding to seek substance abuse treatment can be stressful. The stigma associated with active addiction makes it difficult to find a reputable source of information to support your life change decisions to get sober. Not many people feel comfortable going to a doctor to discuss their meth or inhalant addiction without feeling shame or blame for their struggles. That is why it is important for ABTRS to provide information that you can count on, free from shame, and worth your trust.

We want to empower you with the knowledge to make good decisions that better your life. We take pride in offering reputable sources that are impartial, not funded by organizations that could benefit from certain outcomes, and proven or tested to be effective. Know that the sources below are there to help you by educating you about rehab and the substance you are indulging in.

Baydala L. (2010). Inhalant abuse. Paediatrics & child health, 15(7), 443-54.

NIDA. (2012, July 1). Inhalants. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/inhalants on 2019, February 26

Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2016). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 16-4984, NSDUH Series H-51). Retrieved from http://www.samhsa.gov/data/ 

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