“The use of inhalants is a big concern since these products are legal and can result in irreparable brain damage or death.”
~Charles Curie, Former Administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Sometimes, the most dangerous substance abuse isn’t even a drug. For example, many young people begin experimenting with inhalants – never considering the potentially deadly consequences.
What Are Inhalants?
Inhalants are the chemical vapors produced by a number of common products. When inhaled, these vapors can cause mind-altering effects, while at the same time causing brain damage and putting the abuser at extreme risk of death.
Many people who abuse inhalants mistakenly think that because the product is common that it must be safe. Unfortunately, that is far from true.
What Are Some of the Effects of Inhalants?
Depending upon the specific substance, inhalant use will result in varying effects – from alcohol-like intoxication to intense euphoria to vivid hallucinations. These effects will typically only last for a few minutes, so the person will typically inhale the vapors again and again.
What Are Some of the Dangers of Inhalant Abuse?
Intentional inhalation of chemical vapors can be extremely toxic and damaging to a person’s internal organs:
- Bone Marrow
- Fetal Development
This type of organ damage can take an extremely long time to heal, and in some cases, may be permanent.
Chronic, long-term abuse of inhalants can cause damage to the body similar to the effect of multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease.
Other, more immediate and potentially-fatal dangers include:
- Cardiac Arrest – Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome – this can happen at ANY time – even the FIRST time.
- Aspiration of Vomit
What Type of Product and Substances Are Abused as Inhalants?
There are literally, THOUSANDS of common household products that can be divergent for misuse as inhalants:
- Solvent/model glue
- Paint thinner/Paint remover
- Nail polish remover
- Correction fluid
- Spray paint
- Carburetor cleaner
- Fabric protectors
- Computer cleaner
- Dry-cleaning fluid
- Cooking spray
- Whipped cream
- Nitrous oxide
How Common Is Inhalant Abuse, REALLY?
Unfortunately, inhalant abuse is much more common than you might think:
- Inhalants are the fourth-most-abused substance, after alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana.
- Approximately 23 million Americans will experiment with inhalants at some point in their lives.
- Over two-and-a-half million teenagers in the US have used inhalants at least once within the past year.
- Every year, approximately 600,000 US teenagers try inhalants for the first time.
- 59% of US teenagers know at least one friend who uses inhalants regularly.
- 22% of inhalant users will die from Sudden Sniffing Death.
- Eighth-grade girls are more likely to try inhalants than eighth-grade boys – approximately 9% to just over 5%.
- 1 out of every 4 children in America have intentionally used a household product to get high by the time they have reached the eighth-grade.
- 75% of first-time inhalant users are under the age of 18.
What Are Some of the Signs of Inhalant Abuse?
Even though inhalants are frequently common household substances that, in and of themselves, shouldn’t arouse suspicion, there are telltale signs that you can watch for that may serve as “red flags” indicating inhalant abuse:
- Residual chemical smell on a person’s breath or clothes
- Poor appetite
- Rapid or unexplained weight loss
- Pale or bluish skin
- Dilated pupils
- Glassy eyes
- Slow, unintelligible speech
- Persistently runny nose
- Rash around the mouth or nose
- Impaired sense of smell
- Hearing loss
- Movement disorders
- Lack of coordination
- Loss of balance
- Rags, plastic wrap, or bags with chemical residue
- Empty aerosol cans
- Containers of substances in unexpected places—gas cans in bedrooms, for example
- Paint stains on clothes
What Are Some of the Slang Terms Used by Inhalant Abusers?
As with every drug subculture, inhalant abusers have their own terms. In general, the use of inhalants is called “huffing”, but there are a number of other slang words that can be used. Inhalants can also be known as:
- Air blast
- Hippie crack
- Moon gas
- Poor man’s pot
- Toilet water
What Do I Do If Someone I Care about Is Using Inhalants?
In some ways, inhalant abuse is worse than other abused substances, primarily because the toxic substances used cause long-term, sometimes permanent, damage. Inhalants are not drugs – they are POISONS.
Because of those toxins, detoxification after inhalant abuse can sometimes take over a month.
Inhalants CAN be addictive, so professional drug treatment and counseling is necessary to return to a safe, healthy lifestyle free of substance abuse.
The most important thing to know about inhalants is they can be abused by ANYONE – no matter how young, and no matter how successful or well-behaved they are otherwise. If you have a young child or teenager in your home, you owe it to them and to your family to have a frank discussion with them about the dangers of inhalants.