According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) over 18 million people abused inhalants between 2000 and 2001. The number continues to rise and inhalants continue to destroy lives.

Any substance that can be inhaled to experience mind-altering effects is classified as an inhalant. These drugs create rapid, intense effects because, via lung and bloodstream absorption, the chemicals reach the brain very quickly. Intoxication occurs within seven to ten seconds and lasts for a few minutes; up to an hour at most.

Since most forms of inhalants are inexpensive and can be purchased at local stores, people of all ages have access to these dangerous substances. Hair spray, whipped cream, and computer keyboard cleaner can all be abused as an inhalant.

History of Inhalant Use

The substance, ether, was discovered in 1275 by a chemist in Spain. Ether was then used to create a liquid, called anodyne, that was beneficial as an anesthetic. For use during various medical procedures, anodyne relieved pain. The liquid was also consumed as an alternative to alcohol when believed to be less harmful.

In 1776, nitrous oxide, or “laughing gas,” was discovered and the use of inhalable drugs, or inhalants, became more popular. Other gases were created as anesthetics, and when a drug alters perception, abuse of the substance is inevitable.

Types of Inhalants

There are three categories that all liquid, spray, nitrite, and gas inhalants fall under: organic volatile solvents, volatile nitrites, and anesthetics.

Organic volatile solvents are generally derived from petroleum and are then combined with other chemicals. These combinations include nail polish remover, kerosene, glue, air dusters, paint thinners, lacquers, spot removers, plastic cements, lighter fluid, gasoline, metallic paints, gasoline additive (STP), and several household aerosol sprays.

Volatile nitrites include amyl, butyl, and cyclohexyl nitrite, also called poppers. These substances are used as blood vessel dilators for people with heart problems. The drugs create more blood flow, and when abused, via air fresheners for example, the effects begin within ten second and last for up to a minute. These compounds are often abused in recreational or party setting, and in sexual situations.

Anesthetics are manufactured to block pain or to induce a loss of consciousness for patients who are undergoing surgery, or other invasive medical procedures. While nitrous oxide (laughing gas) is most commonly used by dentists, the drug is widely abused in party settings to achieve euphoria and giddiness. Other anesthetics are halothane, ether, ethylene, ethyl chloride, and cyclopropane.

What is Huffing?

The term “huffing” is used to describe the process of inhaling a substance that is not made for human consumption. Huffing is done my breathing in the fumes directly from containers, or from a cloth soaked in the chemicals, from a bag, or from a balloon. Huffing is done either through the nose or the mouth, in an effort to feel a stupefying, intoxicating, and occasionally psychedelic high.

A 17 year-old recovering inhalant addict shares his experience with huffing:

‘Huffing’? I ‘huffed’ gas when I was 9 years old. And then when I was 11 or 12, I ‘huffed’ for a year. I’d inhale 12 cans of air freshener a day. My mom would buy the big packs at Costco - she didn’t know I was ‘huffing’ them ‘cause I’d throw them away, and then when she found out, I had to stop. I’m surprised I’m not dead from it because I did it for a long time. I’d just sit there and use until I passed out.

Inhalant Effects

The inhalation of harmful chemicals creates intense damage to the brain and body. Physical, mental, and emotional harm is often permanent and irreversible.

People abuse inhalants for the same reason they abuse alcohol, cocaine, heroin, and any other mind-altering substance: to escape from reality, to numb painful emotions, and to experience an altered consciousness.

Inhalants, such as model glue, nail polish remover, and spray paint, contain a powerful chemical called toluene. This substance, most often found in gold and silver, has been shown to activate the brain's pleasure center. In a similar way as other drugs, such as alcohol and cocaine, toluene makes the brain think that the pleasurable feeling is most important and, consequently, a user can quickly become addicted.

Inhalant users do not understanding the risks when the desire to get high becomes so powerful.

Physical Effects of Inhalants

The way most inhalants affect the human body is similar to other drugs that fall under the category of central nervous system (CNS) depressants. Alcohol and many pharmaceutical drugs are also in this category.

CNS depressants can cause the following physical effects:

  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Unsteady gait (pattern of walking)
  • Drowsiness
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Fainting
  • Loss of balance
  • Stupor
  • Nerve damage
  • Coma
  • Asphyxiation or Apoxia
  • Toxicity to cells in the lungs, brain, liver, kidney tissue, and blood
  • Death

Mental & Emotional Effects of Inhalants

The brain is impacted by inhalants, leading to the following mental and emotional effects:

  • Impulsiveness
  • Excitement
  • Mental confusion
  • Mood elevation
  • Disorientation
  • Memory impairment
  • Irritability
  • Delirium (an acutely disturbed state of mind)
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Illusions

Inhalant Abuse & Addiction

Abuse is the continued use of a substance despite negative life consequences. Addiction entails:
  • a loss of control over use
  • an obsession with use
  • continued use despite adverse consequences,
  • denial of any problem
  • a high likelihood of relapse, or return to a substance, when use stops.

Like all drug abuse, continuous inhalant abuse has serious medical consequences and can cause death. It is important to know and to understand what inhalant abuse and addiction looks like so that you can identify each in yourself, or in a loved one.

Does your child have access to any of the following items?

  • Spot remover
  • Degreasers
  • Gasoline
  • Paint thinner
  • Correction fluid
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Any aerosols
  • Butane
  • Propane
  • Keyboard cleaner
  • Whipped cream canisters
  • Nail polish remover

6% of all children in the United States have at least tried an inhalant by the time they enter fourth grade, and according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), nearly 20% of all U.S. eighth graders have tried inhalants at least once.

Understanding what to look for can help you intervene before inhalant use progresses to abuse or to addiction.

Inhalant Abuse

When the use of a mind-altering substance continues, even after negative consequences have occurred, substance use has progressed to abuse.

If a child has passed out from inhalant use and feels sick afterwards, yet he or she continues to engage in huffing, that child is abusing an inhalant. If a young person is missing school because of inhalant use, or is not doing well in classes, and inhalant use continues, he or she is abusing these substances.

Inhalant abuse can start young, and can progress quickly. The adolescent age bracket is currently, and historically, the most likely to abuse inhalants, and to develop addiction to the substances. The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), found that in 2005 alone, in the United States, 22,745,000 people, aged 12 and over, had abused an inhalant. 611,000 of those people were abusing inhalants on a monthly basis.

On September 17, 1998, the Scripps-McClatchy News Service reported the following: A Woodland boy died after he tried to get high by sniffing a common water repellent, Scotchguard, and a 14-year-old friend who also was inhaling the aerosol was arrested on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter. The boys used a plastic bag to inhale the chemicals. They passed the bag back and forth. Suddenly the boys couldn’t breathe.

Inhalant abuse among the youngest members of our population is a problem. Intervention and formal treatment are needed to stop the progression of use to abuse and onto addiction.

The team at Recovery Now TV is ready to connect you with the proper treatment centers for all your needs. Help someone in your life by calling 800-281-4731 now!

Inhalant Addiction

The criteria for addiction are:

  • a loss of control over use,
  • an obsession with use,
  • continued use despite adverse consequences,
  • denial that there is a problem with use, and
  • a high likelihood of relapse, or return to a substance, when use stops.

The mother of a 14-year-old inhalant addict shares her story:

I came to the conclusion that the headaches my son had been complaining about were due to ‘huffing.’ We found empty spray cans out in the woods near the house. Of course when we confronted him, he said, ‘No way. Headaches must be from not having enough caffeine today.’ He was doing bug spray, air freshener, Arid deodorant, and whipped cream [the propellant]. When he was coming down, he would be real angry and violent. When loaded, he did stupid things.

Not only was her son addicted to inhalants, he was experiencing consequences (headaches) and continuing to use (indicating abuse), and he was lying about his use (indicating addiction.) This young boy displayed most of the criteria for addiction, and needed appropriate treatment to stop using inhalants.

To help yourself, or someone in your life who is abusing inhalants, call Recovery Now TV today at 800-281-4731.

Treatment for Inhalant Abuse & Addiction

With detoxification and formal treatment, anyone who has been abusing, or has become addicted to, inhalants can break the cycle, can heal, and can choose a new life of recovery. Call Recovery Now TV to find out more: 800-281-4731.

As is the case with alcoholism and other drug addiction, formal treatment is needed to break the cycle of inhalant addiction. The first step is always a medically-monitored detoxification program where a medical team assists an addict in ridding the body and brain of the harmful toxins left from substance abuse.

The facilities that Recovery Now TV connects clients with combine the most effective techniques of physical and mental therapies to treat every facet of inhalant abuse that has disrupted daily functioning.

Signs & Symptoms of Inhalant Abuse & Addiction

For parents of adolescents or teenagers, searching for the signs of inhalant use is important.

Have you noticed any of the following?

  • Traces of inhalants on the body or clothing
  • Chemical smelling breath
  • Paint or solvent stains on clothing
  • Finding hidden empty spray paint containers, chemical soaked rags or clothing, or several used markers or correction fluid bottles
  • A rash or series of sores around the mouth and nose (a common side effect of huffing)
  • Paint or other chemicals on the face or fingers
  • Intoxicated behavior, such as loss of coordination, slurred speech, nausea, and loss of appetite
  • Withdrawal symptoms, like headaches, irritability, restlessness, and irregular mood

If you suspect that your child, or another loved one, is abusing any inhalant products, it is important to get treatment now, before any more damage is done.

For anyone who are worried about personal inhalant use, or the use by a loved one, help is available. Seeing any symptoms of addiction is reason for at least seeking more information. When you speak with a trained professional, you can find out what options are available, and how to take the first step toward a new life without mind-altering substances.

Just as you would not ignore the warning signs of cancer, diabetes, or other harmful diseases, take action now to prevent the worsening of inhalant abuse and addiction. Damage can be reversed and the underlying reasons for using can be identified, addressed, and healed when intervention and treatment are applied as soon as possible.

By call Recovery Now TV today, you can find out more about our comprehensive programs that treat the mind, body, and soul of an inhalant abuser. The call is completely confidential and toll free so call now: 800-281-4731.

National Household Survey on Drug Abuse
National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Scripps-McClatchy News Service
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
Uppers, Downers, All Arounders by Darryl S. Inaba & William E. Cohen