In recent years, drugs like heroin and fentanyl have dominated the headlines. And for good reason.

During 2016 and 2017 alone, 42,249 people died from overdosing on opioids and over 2 million people had an opioid abuse disorder.

But there are other dangerous substances within arms reach that have led to what some call a “silent epidemic” inhalants.

Inhalant drugs can be found in common household items like spray paint and rubber cement. Used properly, these products are relatively harmless. But when inhaled, they can cause serious bodily harm, addiction, and even death.


If you’re ready to get the facts about inhalants and inhalant addiction, read on to learn more.

What Are Inhalants?

An inhalant is any substance that produces chemical vapors which, when inhaled, create a psychoactive effect. One of the most recognized terms for inhalant abuse is “sniffing glue,” but these toxic substances can be found in numerous household items.

Common slang terms used to refer to inhalants include:

  • Air blast
  • Bagging
  • Bang
  • Bolt or bullet bolt
  • Dusting
  • Glading
  • Highball
  • Huffing
  • Poppers (nitrites)
  • Snappers (nitrites)
  • Whippets (nitrous oxide)

Part of the reason inhalants are so dangerous is their availability. Unlike street drugs like crack and heroin, anyone can walk into a hardware store and purchase inhalants. They are inexpensive and, for the most part, unregulated.

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What Forms Do They Come In?

Some of the most common types of inhalants are nail polish, spray paint, and glues. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), there are four classifications of inhalants:


An aerosol is a collection of suspended particles of liquid droplets. Aerosols are often enclosed under pressure in spray cans. They can be released in a fine spray by means of a propellant gas.

They include the following products:

  • Deodorant sprays
  • Spray paint
  • Fabric sprays
  • Hair sprays
  • Cooking sprays
  • Air dusters (for electronics)
  • Whip cream dispensers (whippets)


There are several types of gases which can be inhaled, including:

  • Butane (from lighters)
  • Chloroform
  • Ether
  • Halothane
  • Propane
  • Refrigerants


Sodium nitrite is used as a preservative and cosmetic enhancer in processed meats. However, nitrites are also used in some types of chemical cleaners and room deodorizers, many of which are banned in the United States.

Nitrites are typically abused for sexual enhancement or simply to get high. Nitrite inhalants include:

  • Amyl nitrite
  • Butyl nitrite
  • Cyclohexyl nitrite

Volatile Solvents

The term “solvent” applies to several different chemical substances. Solvents are used to dissolve or dilute other substances or materials. Even water is technically a solvent.

Volatile solvents are liquids that turn to vapor at room temperature.

Volatile solvents are some of the most common substances abused by inhalant users. They include:

  • Correction fluids (whiteout)
  • Degreasers
  • Dry-cleaning chemicals
  • Felt markers
  • Gasoline
  • Glues
  • Paint thinners and paint removers

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How Are They Taken?

Inhalants are abused when someone purposefully sniffs or inhales their fumes. Some users will pour or spray the substances into a bag and huff them. They can also be sprayed directly into someone’s mouth or airway.

Who Takes Them?

Most parents imagine their children would never engage in such an obviously dangerous practice. Unfortunately, many children do. Inhalant abuse is one of the most common forms of drug abuse among adolescents.

According to national surveys, 21.7 million Americans aged 12 and older have used inhalants at least once in their lifetimes.

But children and adolescents aren’t the only ones who abuse these drugs. Adults who can’t find or afford street drugs often turn to inhalants to get high.

Inhalants are abused by people from all socioeconomic backgrounds.

A Brief History of Inhalants

People have used inhalants since ancient times. Inhaling the fumes of incense, oils, and spices was a common practice in ancient religious ceremonies. In some cases, inhalants were used to alter one’s state of mind for religious purposes.

Ether, once known as “sweet vitriol,” was discovered in 1275 by a Spanish chemist named Raymundus Lullius. Nitrous oxide was discovered by English chemist Joseph Priestly in 1772. Both substances were often used as anesthetics in medical procedures.

However, almost as soon as they were discovered, they were popularized as a substitute for alcohol. Recreational use of these substances continued into the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.

Abuse of solvents became popular in the 1940s, and abuse of inhalants increased dramatically in the 1950s and 1960s.

Currently, inhalant abuse can be found in every country of the world. But it is particularly prevalent in poorer countries.

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Consequences of Inhalant Misuse

When inhalants are first abused, their effects mimic those of alcohol intoxication.

Effects on the Mind

It can be difficult to spot inhalant addiction early on. But there are some clear signals that there may be a problem.

People who abuse inhalants regularly may be highly aggressive, irritable, or emotional. They may have impaired judgment and weakness in their muscles. It’s not uncommon for inhalant users to be lethargic, or to sit in a stupor for long periods of time.

Like with other drugs, teens who abuse inhalants may become disinterested in their regular activities. They may isolate themselves, act out of character, or stay out of the house for long periods of time when they aren’t supposed to.

Effects on the Body

Most people report feeling euphoric and dizzy. Inhalants may cause a lack of coordination, slurred speech, giggling, and even hallucinations. Usually, these effects only last a few minutes.

When the euphoria wears off, users sometimes experience nausea, bad headaches, and dizziness.

People addicted to inhalants may experience physical withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • Cravings
  • Body or limb pain
  • Depression
  • Profuse sweating
  • Headaches
  • Nervousness and anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Panic attacks
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis (disconnection with reality)
  • Tremors

Short-Term Health Effects

Abusing inhalants may result in:

  • Heart failure
  • Tissue death
  • Muscle contractions
  • Suffocation
  • Coma

In many cases, inhalants are more dangerous than street drugs. The biggest risk of abusing them is death.

Death can occur when someone uses inhalants only once. This is often referred to as “sudden sniffing death syndrome.”

Long-Term Health Effects

Individuals who abuse inhalants for long periods of time can also develop complications later in life, such as:

  • Hearing loss
  • Vision loss
  • Heart problems
  • Brain damage
  • Kidney or liver damage
  • Kidney or liver failure
  • Oxygen depletion
  • Damage to bone marrow

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Using Inhalants With Other Drugs

Abusing inhalants while also abusing other drugs significantly increases the risk of overdose and serious health problems, including death.

Which Drugs Are Commonly Used With Inhalants?

Inhalants are sometimes used in combination with almost all other drug types. But they are commonly abused with alcohol, marijuana, stimulants, and depressants.

However, inhalants are often used as a substitute for alcohol or other street drugs. Often, they are selected as a substitute when other drugs aren’t available.

Treating Inhalant Addiction

Most addiction treatment centers recognize and treat inhalant addiction. They can also help addicts treat withdrawal symptoms, detox, and enter long-term recovery programs.

Inpatient treatment is often the best solution for inhalant addicts, as the withdrawal symptoms can be serious. It’s also important for those addicted to inhalants to receive certain medical tests to determine if there has been any serious damage to their bodies.

Inhalants should be treated just like any street drug. They can be just as dangerous, if not more so. If you or a loved one is suffering from inhalant addiction, contact us today for more information about available help.