Inhalant Addiction — Abuse And Treatment Options

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on May 1, 2020

Inhalant abuse commonly occurs in children, and inhalants often constitute the first time kids experience drug use. Inhalants can be found in many household items and can be inhaled through different means.

Inhalant Addiction And Treatment Options

According to the Monitoring the Future survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), of kids in the eighth grade, about 13% have used inhalants.

The Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that by the time they reach the eighth grade as many as 20% of kids have tried inhalants.

Inhalants refer to both the type of drug and manner of taking it. The type of drug is solvents or aerosols that can be found in commercial products in most any home.

Because of their availability in homes, they are among the small number of substances that children abuse more than adults.

What Are Inhalants?

With the exception of nitrites, most inhalants are considered central nervous system (CNS) depressants, and the effect they have on the brain is similar to alcohol intoxication.

However, there is also a psychoactive component to inhalants that alters the mind. Many inhalants also interact with dopamine.

The types of chemicals that cause a high when inhaled are almost as varied as the products that contain them, and some chemicals are found in multiple products including volatile solvents.

These chemicals can include:

  • benzene
  • amyl nitrite
  • butyl nitrite
  • freon
  • trichloroethylene
  • methylene chloride
  • toluene
  • freon

How Do People Use Inhalants?

Inhalants are breathed in many different ways, depending, in part, on the substance.

The different ways of inhaling are:

  • huffing: soaking a rag with an inhalant and putting it against your face or directly in your mouth
  • ballooning: blowing up a balloon with a gas or aerosol inhalant and sucking it up
  • glading: breathing in the aerosol fumes from air fresheners
  • bagging: spraying the substance into a plastic bag or paper bag and breathing it in through the opening
  • dusting: inhaling a substance by spraying it directly into your nose or mouth
  • snorting: this means, contrary to what you would think, breathing the inhalant in through your mouth
  • sniffing: breathing a substance in through your nose

Why People Abuse Inhalants

The people who abuse inhalants the most are children or adolescents, and they often try inhalants before they try other drugs, probably because of their prevalence in homes.

Inhalants are one kind of gateway drug, giving children the feeling of a high that can lead to inhalant addiction or another drug addiction.

What Are Commonly Abused Inhalants?

There are three forms that are the most commonly abused among inhalants. But inhalant solvents can be found in everything from lighter fluid in a cigarette lighter to degreasers.

In addition to those listed below, inhalant solvents are in the vapors of:

  • nail polish remover
  • paint thinner
  • gasoline
  • typewriter correction fluid
  • glue
  • rubber cement
  • solvent cleaning fluids
  • tip markers


Aerosols contain solvents or propellants and are often found in spray paint, hair spray, spray deodorant, and vegetable sprays such as Pam.


Gasses can be inhaled as well, and people can find them in whipped cream dispensers, butane lighters, propane tanks, and medical anesthetics such as nitrous oxide (laughing gas).


People will sometimes inhale nitrites from prescription medications for chest pain, but this constitutes a different kind of inhalant abuse.

Unlike most inhalants, nitrite dilates blood vessels and produces a relaxing effect. They are also considered to enhance sexual performance by those who take them.

Can You Become Addicted To Inhalants?

Inhalants don’t pose a risk of addiction since the substances aren’t addictive — the danger lies in the abuse of these substances, which can lead to a number of health consequences.

If you are concerned that your child may be using inhalants, there are signs of inhalant abuse that you can watch for.

If they are hiding in their room empty containers of any of the chemicals mentioned above or if they have paint stains on their hands or face, that may be cause for concern.

Other signs of chronic abuse may include:

  • aggressive behavior
  • excitability
  • nausea and vomiting
  • lack of interest in hobbies

Certainly, if your child appears drunk, inhalant abuse may be the cause.

Side Effects Of Inhalant Abuse

The neurological effects of inhalants can be detrimental after the short-term effects of the high wear off.

Side effects of inhalant use can include:

  • impairment of ability in class or at work
  • irritability and aggression
  • apathy
  • drowsiness
  • increased heart rate (arrhythmia)
  • headache
  • loss of senses

Dangers Of Inhalant Abuse

Inhalant addiction can be dangerous. Like other forms of drug addiction, inhalant abuse creates tolerance which leads a person to inhale more solvents in order to get high.

Inhalants have chemicals that were never meant to be ingested at such a rate and for such a purpose, so the results can be devastating.

The dangers of inhalant addiction can include:

  • suffocation
  • asphyxiation
  • choking
  • seizures
  • bone marrow damage

Can You Overdose On Inhalants?

Inhalant abuse also carries the danger of overdose, which can include sudden sniffing death syndrome.

Sudden sniffing death syndrome, which is when the person inhaling the solvent has a cardiac arrest, is the result of the many dangerous chemicals that can be found in inhalants.

None of these chemicals were meant to be breathed into the respiratory system.

Treatment Options For Inhalant Abuse

If you or your loved one is struggling with inhalant abuse, there are treatment options available.

Treatment centers around the nation specialize in inhalant abuse and help you end the addiction to it.

There are many different treatment options for substance use disorders, and some options vary according to the substance.

However, most treatment options include:

  • evidence-based therapy
  • inpatient treatment
  • outpatient treatment
  • managing withdrawal symptoms
  • support groups
  • aftercare

Inhalant Abuse FAQs

If you still have questions about inhalant abuse, please consult our frequently asked questions below.

No, inhalants are not controlled substances in the United States. These chemicals are available in common household products, though some states attempt to restrict the sale of those products.

Inhalant addiction must be detected by parents or healthcare professionals, because inhalants do not show up on urine drug screens.

Yes, inhalants can lead to a fatal overdose called sudden sniffing death when the heart stops suddenly.

Find A Substance Abuse Treatment Program

Treatment programs are available at professional treatment centers around the United States. If you are trying to find addiction treatment, offers confidential help.

Call our helpline today, and begin your recovery.

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on May 1, 2020
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