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Inhalant abuse

National surveys of adolescents in the United States have found that, after marijuana, inhalants were the second most widely used class of drugs for 8th and 10th graders and were the third most widely used for 12th graders. Thats right, 8th and 10th graders!

Parents need to be educated, as well as teachers, coaches, counselors, and young children to the warning signs of intoxication from inhalants, and that every day chemicals can be used as a cheap and easy way to get high.

What are inhalants and how are they abused?

  • Inhalants are ordinary household products that are inhaled (breathed in) or sniffed by children to get high.

There are several different ways these substances can be inhaled:

- Sniff them directly from the containers they are in.

- Spray them into a bag, empty soft drink can, or other container and
breathe them in.

- Spray or pour them onto a cloth or piece of clothing and inhale
deeply from the fabric (huffed).

What are some examples of inhalants that are abused to get high?

There are thousands of potential substances that can be abused by inhalation.
Many of them are common household products such as:

  • Gasoline
  • Glue
  • Scotch-guard
  • Spray paint
  • Hair spray
  • Nail polish removers
  • Spray deodorants
  • Oven cleaners
  • Cooking sprays
  • Paint thinner
  • White out or correction fluid
  • Colored markers
  • Computer Keyboard cleaning products (go to “Dusting” for more details)

Why do teenagers use inhalants?

  • Teenagers who might never try illegal drugs may try inhalants to get high because they are legal, easy to access, and inexpensive. In junior high schools, teens find easy access to chemicals located in the wood shop, auto shop, and the janitor closet that will get them high.
  • And because they are not illegal, teens do not feel that it will be harmful to them.

How common is inhalant use in school age children and teenagers?

  • According to the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 23 million Americans ages 12 and older reported trying inhalants at least once during their lifetimes, representing almost 10% of the population ages 12 and older.
  • After a long and substantial decline in the use of inhalants by 8th graders from 1995 to 2002, a significant increase in use was reported in this grade in 2003.
  • Among students surveyed as part of the 2004 Monitoring the Future study, 17% of eighth graders, 12% of tenth graders, and 11% of twelfth graders reported using inhalants at least once during their lifetimes.  All three grades showed some increase in inhalant use in that year compared to previous years.
  • Among students surveyed as part of the 2006 Monitoring the Future study, 8th and 12th grades showed no further increase—only 10th grade showed a 0.5 percentage point rise.
  • But there is still concern about the future because of a continuing decline in “perceived risk”—the proportion of students seeing this class of drugs as dangerous has been decreasing steadily in the lower grades for the past five years.
  • The 2005 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS)surveyed more than 7,200 teenagers and 1,200 parents – main study findings include:

1.  One in 5 teenagers (20%) report abusing inhalants in
their lifetime.

2.  64% of teenagers in 2005 agree strongly that inhalants
can kill you, down 19% from 2001.

3.  Only 5% of parents believe their child has ever abused

4.  While 75% of parents spend time discussing the risks of
cigarettes “a lot” with their teen, only 50% reportspending
the same amount of time discussing the risk of inhalant
abuse “a lot” with their teen.

  • Studies show that white Caucasians and Hispanics among the ages of twelve to seventeen are more likely to use inhalants.

Are kids who use inhalants at risk for other drug use?

  • Teens who abuse inhalants are three times more likely to use other drugs whose effects are even more intense and last longer.

What are the health effects from using inhalants?

Short-term or immediate effects

Intoxication from inhalant use can last a few minutes or several hours if inhalants are taken repeatedly. Initially, users may feel slightly stimulated; with successive inhalations, they may feel less in control; finally, a user can lose consciousness.

Other effects include headache, muscle weakness, abdominal pain, severe mood swings and violent behavior, nausea, fatigue, and lack of coordination.

Long-term effects
Inhalant use can cause damage to most of the organs, including the brain, liver, kidney, and heart.

Inhalant use is often associated with depression and suicidal behavior.

Death may result from:

  • Cardiac arrest – chemicals from inhalants can make the heart beat very fast and irregularly, then suddenly stop beating (“Sudden Sniffing Death”)
  • Suffocation
  • Asphyxia – stop breathing from a lack of oxygen
  • Unintended trauma, burns
  • Suicide

How can inhalant use in a teenager be recognized?

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, signs of possible inhalant abuse include:

  1. red or runny eyes or nose
  2. spots or sores around the mouth
  3. the hiding of rags, clothes or empty product containers
  4. unusual breath odor or smell on clothing.
  5. problems in school
  6. paint or stains on body or clothing
  7. drunk, dazed or dizzy appearance
  8. nausea, loss of appetite
  9. anxiety, excitability, irritability


National Inhalant Prevention Coalition
Fact sheets and information on specific drugs for teens and adults
The Partnership for a Drug-free America
American Council for Drug Education