Inhalant Abuse - Topic Overview
Inhalants are substances that produce chemical vapors that, when
inhaled, result in mind-altering effects. The term inhalant is used because
these substances are rarely, if ever, abused by any other means. These
substances are common household, industrial, or medical products. But most
people do not think of them as drugs, because they are not meant to be used in that
Inhalants commonly abused include:
- Solvents (such as paint thinners and degreasers),
gasoline, glues, and office supplies (such as correction fluids, felt-tip
markers, and electronics cleaners).
- Gases (such as household
products including aerosol computer cleaners, butane lighters, whipping cream aerosols (whippets), spray paints, hair
or deodorant sprays, vegetable oil sprays, and fabric protector
- Nitrites (such as a prescription medicine called amyl
nitrite). An illegal form of amyl nitrite, called poppers or snappers, is often
packaged and sold in small bottles. Common room odorizers also contain nitrites
that can be inhaled.
When inhalants are breathed, they cause alcohol-like effects:
slurred speech, lack of coordination, and dizziness. The person can become
lightheaded and may have
delusions. The effects last only a few minutes. After
heavy use of an inhalant, the person may have a headache and feel drowsy for
several hours. The person who inhales repeatedly over several hours can lose
consciousness and die.
Aerosols can be sprayed directly into the nose or mouth. Nitrous
oxide can be inhaled directly from balloons. Several terms are used for the way
inhalants are breathed into the lungs, including:
- Sniffing or snorting, when fumes are inhaled from
- Bagging, when fumes are inhaled from substances
sprayed or deposited inside a plastic bag.
- Huffing, when a soaked
rag is placed in the mouth or held to the face for inhalation.
Long-term health problems, such as brain, liver, kidney, blood, or
bone marrow damage, can occur from inhaling some substances. Long-term abuse of
inhalants also causes:
- Weight loss.
- Muscle weakness and
lack of coordination.
- Disorientation and
- Irritability and depression.
Inhalants are often not detected with urine or blood drug screening
tests, because they have usually been eliminated from the body by the time the
test is done.
Signs of use
- Chemical odors on clothing or
- Empty containers or
discarded soaked rags or clothing hidden in the trash
- Red eyes,
irritability, frequent headaches, drunk appearance, and slurred
- Nausea or loss of appetite
- Sores around the