What to Know About Sniffing Glue

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on February 20, 2024
4 min read

Sniffing glue is a form of inhalant abuse that can have serious health consequences. Nearly 20% of children in middle and high school have experimented with some form of inhalant because it provides a quick high. But like other types of substance abuse, inhalant abuse can lead to addiction.

Glue is only one type of inhalant that is used for getting high. Most inhalants are cheap and easy for children to access. Many are ordinary items you may have around the house, including:

  • Nail polish remover
  • Lighter fluid
  • Shoe polish
  • Paint thinner
  • Spray paint
  • Gasoline
  • Markers
  • Cooking spray
  • Canned whipped cream

There are several different ways that kids use inhalants to get high. They may:

Sniff. This is when the substance, such as glue, is sniffed directly from the container. Some spray inhalants may be “sniffed” by being sprayed on a heated surface first. 

Huff. This involves soaking a rag in the inhalant and pressing it to the mouth or nose.

Spray. If the inhalant is in a spray can, it may be sprayed directly into the nose or mouth.

Inhale. The substance, often a gas, is released, sprayed, or poured into a plastic bag or balloon. The user then inhales from the new container.  

Sniffing glue initially causes a feeling of euphoria. Because the inhalants affect your brain quickly, sniffing glue can also cause:

Inhalant abuse is linked to sudden death as well as serious damage to major organs. Someone sniffing glue is in immediate danger as well as at risk of long-term harmful effects.

Sudden death. The most common cause of death due to sniffing glue is heart failure. The chemicals in the substance can sensitize the heart to adrenaline. This can result in a very fast heartbeat that causes heart failure. They can also cause the user to suddenly stop breathing.

Another risk of death and injury from sniffing glue comes from feeling invincible. A user may take risks that they wouldn't otherwise. They may fall, drown, get burned, or otherwise harm themselves.

Long-term harmful effects. Chronic exposure to inhalants such as glue can cause:

It can be hard to know if your child or someone you know is abusing inhalants. Here are some signs to look for:

  • A chemical smell on their breath
  • Paint or oil stains on clothes
  • Skipping school or work
  • Drop in grades or failure to complete ordinary tasks
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dazed appearance
  • Slurred speech
  • Messy appearance
  • Restlessness at night
  • Change in behavior
  • Spots or sores around the mouth
  • Rash around the mouth, called a “huffer’s rash”

Sniffing glue is treated the same way as other addictions. There are many treatment plans specifically for teens that may include individual therapy, family therapy, engagement programs, and follow-up programs.

Individual therapy.Cognitive behavior therapy can help someone learn to handle stress, deal with peer pressure, and handle cravings. The therapist can also help the user find their own motivation for quitting.

Family therapy. Sniffing glue is most common in children. When that’s the case, the whole family is affected. Family therapy can help your family learn to communicate better and build stronger relationships.

Activity and engagement programs. These programs focus on teaching teenagers new skills and providing new social experiences to offer alternatives. They may offer activities such as hiking, movie nights, and dances. They offer your child alternatives to sniffing. They can also help your child make new friends who don't use drugs.

Aftercare. Support groups and 12-step programs can help a user stay substance-free and reduce the risk of a relapse.

Immediate treatment. If you find your child or someone you know sniffing glue, stay calm and try not to startle them. By staying calm, you reduce the risk of triggering a heart problem. Move the person to a well-ventilated area until the effects wear off. If they aren’t responsive, call 911.

Talk about inhalant abuse with your child. Be sure to stay involved in their life and keep track of where they are and who their friends are. Some other things you can do include:

  • Talk about what products can be abused.
  • Discuss the slang terms for inhalants.
  • Make sure your child knows that inhalants are deadly chemicals.
  • Discuss the risks and side effects of sniffing glue.
  • Use water-based school supplies instead of solvent-based products whenever possible.