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Inhalant Abuse Fact Sheet

Inhalant Fact Sheet


Commonly known among kids as "huffing," "bagging," or "sniffing," inhalant abuse is the deliberate concentration and inhalation of common products found in homes, offices, and schools to get high.

National surveys of young people and U.S. households indicate that:
§ Inhalants are the fifth most-abused substance after alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and prescription drug misuse among high school students.
§ Almost as many 8th graders have ever tried inhalants (16 percent) as have tried marijuana/hashish (18 percent), according to Monitoring the Future 2003.
§ According to the 2002 Household Survey, 308,000 teens, aged 12-17 used inhalants in the past month.
§ Fewer than 1 in 20 parents believe their children may have ever abused inhalants.
More than 1,000 common products are potential inhalants that can kill, including:
Correction fluid
Computer agents
Deodorizers Markers
Paint products
Gases (whippets, butane, propane)
Fire extinguishers
Nail polish remover
Lighter fluid
Hair spray
Cleaning agents

Chronic inhalant users can suffer severe and permanent brain damage; some die the first time they experiment. Other possible risks include the following:
Hearing loss
Bone marrow damage
Short-term memory loss
Limb spasms
Liver and kidney damage

There is a common link between inhalant abuse and problems in school - failing grades, chronic absences, and general apathy. Other signs include the following:
§ Paint or stains on body, clothing, rags, or bags
§ Unusual breath odor or chemical odor on clothing
§ Slurred or disorientated speech
§ Anxiety, excitability, irritability, or restlessness
§ Missing household items
§ Red or runny eyes or nose
§ Spots or sores around the mouth
§ Drunk, dazed, or dizzy appearance
§ Nausea, loss of appetite
§ For more information, contact the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition at (800) 269-4237, or visit
Source: The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI) 

Alliance for Consumer Education (ACE)

The Killer Under Our Sinks: Inhalants
Inhalants are common products found right in the home and are among the most popular and deadly substances kids abuse. Inhalant abuse can result in death from the very first use. About one in five kids report having used inhalants by the eighth grade. They sniff or "huff" ordinary household products like nail polish remover, cleaning fluid, gasoline, and spray paint.

Inhalants are breathable chemical vapors that produce psychoactive (mind-altering) effects. Although people are exposed to volatile solvents and other inhalants in the home and in the workplace, many do not think of "inhalable" substances as drugs because most of them were never meant to be used in that way.

Young people are likely to abuse inhalants, in part, because inhalants are readily available and inexpensive. Parents should see that these substances are monitored closely so that children do not abuse them.

Inhalants fall into the following categories:

  • industrial or household solvents or solvent-containing products, including paint thinners or solvents, degreasers (dry-cleaning fluids), gasoline, and glues
  • art or office supply solvents, including correction fluids, felt-tip-marker fluid, and electronic contact cleaners
  • gases used in household or commercial products, including butane lighters and propane tanks, whipping cream aerosols or dispensers (whippets), and refrigerant gases
  • household aerosol propellants and associated solvents in items such as spray paints, hair or deodorant sprays, and fabric protector sprays
  • medical anesthetic gases, such as ether, chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide (laughing gas)
  • aliphatic nitrites, including cyclohexyl nitrite, which is available to the general public; amyl nitrite, which is available only by prescription; and butyl nitrite, which is now an illegal substance
Health Hazards

Physical effects. Nearly all abused inhalants produce effects similar to anesthetics, which act to slow down the body's functions. When inhaled in sufficient concentrations, inhalants can cause intoxicating effects that can last only a few minutes or several hours if inhalants are taken repeatedly. Initially, users may feel slightly stimulated; with successive inhalations, they may feel less inhibited and less in control; finally, a user can lose consciousness.

Irreversible hazards. Sniffing highly concentrated amounts of the chemicals in solvents or aerosol sprays can directly induce heart failure and death. This is especially common from the abuse of fluorocarbons and butane-type gases. High concentrations of inhalants also cause death from suffocation by displacing oxygen in the lungs and then in the central nervous system so that breathing ceases. Other irreversible effects caused by inhaling specific solvents are:
  • Hearing loss - toluene (paint sprays, glues, dewaxers) and trichloroethylene (cleaning fluids, correction fluids)
  • Peripheral neuropathies or limb spasms - hexane (glues, gasoline) and nitrous oxide (whipping cream, gas cylinders)
  • Central nervous system or brain damage - toluene (paint sprays, glues, dewaxers)
  • Bone marrow damage - benzene (gasoline)
  • Liver and kidney damage - toluene- containing substances and chlorinated hydrocarbons (correction fluids, dry- cleaning fluids)
  • Blood oxygen depletion - organic nitrites ("poppers," "bold," and "rush") and methylene chloride (varnish removers, paint thinners)
Information provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Signs of Inhalant Abuse

Parents should be aware of the following signs of an inhalant abuse problem:
  • Chemical odors on breath or clothing;
  • Paint or other stains on face, hands, or clothes;
  • Hidden empty spray paint or solvent containers and chemical-soaked rags or clothing;
  • Drunk or disoriented appearance;
  • Slurred speech;
  • Nausea or loss of appetite;
  • Inattentiveness, lack of coordination, irritability, and depression;
  • Missing household items

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About the Author:
This information was provided by, which was developed to arm parents with the skills they need to raise drug-free kids.
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