Recognizing Inhalant Abuse

Information on this page should not be distributed to children.

When the subject of inhalants is talked about, people often mistakenly think of asthma inhalers. Inhalant abuse is called “the silent epidemic” because most people do not know about the dangers of inhalants and abuse often goes unnoticed. Inhalants are products and substances that are abused to get a “high.” The products used can be found in homes, schools and offices. More than 1000 products can be inhaled for their intoxicating effects.

Some common inhalant products include:

  • Gasoline products, paint removers, glues, white out correction fluid, markers
  • Sprays that contain propellants such as spray paints, deodorants, computer dusters
  • Butane lighters, propane tanks, whipped cream dispensers
  • Medical anesthetics such as ether or chloroform
  • Room deodorizers, whippets, poppers and snappers

Why are inhalants used?

Inhalants are available, low cost and are in legal products. The products used are not usually thought of as a poison or dangerous when inhaled. Inhalants provide an immediate “high” that can last one to five minutes, sometimes longer. The effect is similar to drinking too much alcohol and causes mind altering effects.

How are inhalants being used?

  • Sniffing directly from container
  • Spraying chemical directly into mouth
  • Huffing from rag or something soaked with chemical
  • Spraying chemicals directly into bag and huffing out of the bag
  • Chemicals sprayed or painted on clothing or fingernails and sniffed

What are the problems with inhalants?

Abuse of inhalants can cause “sudden sniffing death” even the first time inhalants are used. Irregular rhythms in the heart may lead to cardiac arrest. The chemicals can take the place of oxygen in the blood and may cause asphyxiation. Inhalant abuse can cause suffocation by interfering with breathing or a person could choke. Long term inhalant abuse may cause the loss of normal function in arms, legs and loss of bladder and bowel control. Inhalants destroy brain cells. A person could have an allergy to the product causing an allergic reaction. Most of these chemicals are fire hazards and could cause a fire or an explosion.

What are some signs and symptoms to look for?

  • Drunk, dazed appearance
  • Chemical smells on breath, body or clothing
  • Unusually large collection of paint, spray cans, room deodorizers, etc.
  • Red eyes
  • Runny nose or nose bleeds
  • Personality changes
  • Slurred speech
  • Staggering or stumbling, wide based gait
  • Loss of control of arm and leg movement

What should kids know?

  • Inhalants poisons!
  • Teach children about how their bodies work. Focus on the lungs and the need for oxygen. Discuss body pollution.
  • Say poisons, chemicals, toxins, fumes instead of inhalants or drugs.
  • Talk about “toxic effects” instead of “getting high.”
  • Don’t teach kids how to abuse inhalants or show them which products to use.