What is Inhalant Abuse?

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As people continue to search for that next place to get their fix, they might start to turn to unconventional places. This is especially true for those of a younger age, like teenagers and young adults who might not have access to conventional drugs but do have access to everyday household products.

One of the ways that they can get high at home is by inhaling the chemicals associated with some of these products, otherwise known as inhalants. While inhaling these products might seem innocent enough, doing so can have significant and major consequences, including developing an addiction and even major health complications. Let’s take a look at inhalant abuse and ways to get treatment for inhalants and an inhalant addiction.

What Are Inhalants?

inhalant abuse

Inhalants are chemicals that are found in some typical household or office products that produce chemical vapors. When inhaled or ingested, these chemicals can produce a variety of mind-altering effects. Inhaled substances are rapidly absorbed into the brain to produce a quick high. Chronic inhalant abuse can result in irreversible side effects, such as coma and even death.

While people of all ages have been known to abuse inhalants, inhalant abuse is most commonly found in teenagers aged 14 to 19 years old. However, abuse is also seen in children as young as 5 or 6. Inhalant abuse is much more common in men than women. It can stem from a history of physical or sexual abuse, delinquency, criminal behavior, depression, suicidal behavior, antisocial attitudes, family conflict, violence, and/or drug abuse.

Young Adults and Inhalant Abuse

According to a US National Library of Medicine study, one in ten of all adults have used an inhalant at least one time in their lives. 8% of the adults that have used an inhalant within the past year met the criteria for an inhalant use disorder. The study found an increased prevalence of inhalant use among young adults ranging from ages 18 to 25. 

Inhalants likely affect a younger than normal age group due to the fact that inhalants are easily obtained. Young adults can easily acquire products like canned whipped cream, lighter fluid, nail polish remover, and paint thinner from most convenience stores. 

What Are the Different Types of Inhalants?

There are thousands of common products that can be used and abused as inhalants. As we discussed above, they are significantly cheaper and easier to obtain than illicit substances. While there are thousands of different products that can be used as inhalants, they all tend to fall into one of four categories. Those categories are:

  • Volatile Solvents
  • Aerosols
  • Gases
  • Nitrates

Volatile Solvents

A volatile solvent is a liquid that vaporizes at room temperature. This is found in a variety of typical household and industrial products. Some examples of volatile solvents include:

  • Paint thinners
  • Gas
  • Lighter fluid
  • Glue
  • Nail polish remover
  • Dry cleaning materials
  • Corrective fluid such as liquid whiteout
  • Markers
  • Degreasers
  • Rubber cement


Aerosols are sprays containing both solvents and propellants, which are used to produce pressurized gas. Some common examples of aerosols include:

  • Spray paint
  • Spray deodorant
  • Hair spray
  • Fabric softener or other fabric protecting sprays
  • Vegetable oil spray


Gases include medical anesthetics as well as gases used in household or commercial products. Some examples of common medical anesthetics include chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, is by far the most abused of all the gases because it’s found in commonly used products like whipped cream dispensers and propellant canisters. Ingesting gases in this manner is commonly known as “whippets.” Gases can also be found in common household products such as butane lighters, propane tanks, and refrigerants.

inhalant abuse


While nitrites are a type of inhalant, they tend to be looked at differently than the inhalants listed above. Unlike most other inhalants, nitrites act directly on the central nervous system. While other inhalants are used to alter mood, nitrites are used primarily as sexual enhancers. Common nitrites include:

  • Cyclohexyl nitrites
  • Isoamyl nitrites
  • Isobutyl nitrites

While nitrites are largely prohibited by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, they can still be found in certain products such as video head cleaners, room odorizers, leather cleaners, and liquid aromas.

While those with a substance abuse disorder will likely choose any of the types listed above that are available to them, effects may vary. As a result, some people might have their inhalant of choice.

How Are Inhalants Typically Abused?

side effects

When someone abuses inhalants, they tend to breathe them in through their nose or their mouth. This allows the inhalant to hit the bloodstream quickly, speeding up the time it takes to get high. They may sniff or snort fumes from a container or dispenser, spray aerosols directly into the nose or mouth, or place a chemical-soaked rag over the mouth or nose. Since the high from an inhalant tends to only last minutes, the person might do it several times throughout the day.

If you’re concerned that someone you know might be abusing inhalants, the following are some slang terms to look out for that describe either the inhalant itself or inhalant abuse:

  • Glue
  • Bang
  • Sniff
  • Whippets
  • Kick
  • Poppers
  • Snappers
  • Huffing
  • Dusting
  • Bagging
  • Snorting
  • Sniffing 

What Are Some Signs of Inhalant Abuse?

In addition to learning the “lingo” that comes along with inhalant use, there are certain signs to look out for when it comes to identifying inhalant abuse. Some of the more common signs of substance abuse include:

  • A sudden change in who the person is hanging out with or what they’re doing
  • The constant smell of chemicals on their breath or clothes
  • Stains on hands, fingers, or new clothes
  • A significant and sudden change in behavior
  • The development of poor hygiene or grooming habits
  • A rapid decline in performance at either school or work
  • Constantly being tired
  • Suffering from a runny nose or nosebleeds
  • Slurred speech
  • The development of ulcers or irritation around the nose and mouth

If you notice one or more of these signs, it might indicate that your loved one is suffering from inhalant abuse. 

What Are Some of the Medical Risks of Using Inhalants?

inhalant abuse

While the use of inhalants can produce a quick, short-acting high in the moment, the after-effects can be significant from a health perspective. 

Immediately after the high wears off, someone abusing inhalants can feel anything from drowsiness, disinhibition, lightheadedness, and agitation. Prolonged use can even result in a loss of sensation or unconsciousness. 

Specifically, the chemicals found in solvents, aerosol sprays, and gases can result in the following side effects:

  • Belligerence
  • Impaired judgment 
  • Apathy
  • Impaired functioning in work or social situations
  • Confusion
  • Delirium
  • Dizziness and nausea
  • Drowsiness
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle weakness
  • Stupor
  • Slurred speech
  • Depressed reflexes

The prolonged use of nitrites can result in:

  • Dilate blood vessels
  • The feeling of heat and excitement that can last for several minutes
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Increased heart rate
  • Flushing of the body

Constant substance abuse involving inhalants can also have significant and severe medical consequences, including:

  • Suffocation caused by the blocking of air from entering the lungs
  • Asphyxiation caused by the repeated inhalations
  • Seizures caused by the abnormal electrical discharges in the brain
  • Choking caused by inhalation or vomiting after inhalant use
  • Coma caused by the brain shutting down
  • Fatal injury caused by dangerous activities performed while intoxicated 


What Are the Treatment Options For Inhalant Addiction?

Just like with other substance abuse issues, those who find themselves suffering from inhalant abuse may benefit significantly from treatment for inhalants. Just as with other substances, it’s essential to properly detox before beginning treatment. Detox can be done at a medical facility, a dedicated detox facility, or a treatment center that also provides detox services such as New Directions for Women. Attempting to self-detox can be incredibly dangerous and even life-threatening. 

Unlike traditional rehab, treatment for inhalants takes longer than other programs because inhalants stay inside body fat. In addition, since inhalant abuse tends to cause limited thinking ability and a short attention span, therapy sessions will last about 15 to 30 minutes at first, becoming longer as treatment progresses.

Substance abuse treatment for inhalants consists largely of individual and group therapy sessions. These therapy sessions will allow the person to get to the bottom of what caused their addiction in the first place, as well as learn ways to prevent going down the same or similar path in the future.

Want To Know More About Inhalant Abuse?

While it might seem innocent enough at the time, using inhalants for anything other than directed can be incredibly dangerous. In addition to potentially causing an addiction to develop, it can also lead to serious medical complications and even death. 

At New Directions for Women, we know that while inhalant abuse and addiction tend to affect men more than women, women aren’t immune to developing an addiction to it. That is why we offer detox and rehab services for women who are suffering from a variety of substance abuse and mental health issues, such as inhalants. If you or someone you know is addicted to inhalants and is in need of help, call us immediately before it is too late. Don’t let your addiction run your life for one more day.

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