Inhalant Abuse | Types, Effects, Warning Signs, & Treatment

More than 1,000 products have been used as inhalants, including aerosols, volatile solvents, gasses, and nitrites. Most inhalants depress the central nervous system, producing a brief high and increasing the risk of dangerous side effects.

Inhalants are a broad variety of household and workplace products that produce sniff-, snort-, or inhalable vapors that can cause an intense, brief, and dangerous high.

Types Of Inhalants

Over 1,000 commercial and household products have been reportedly used as inhalants. Most of these items are uncontrolled, readily available, inexpensive, and can be divided into four generalized categories.


Aerosols are spray cans or similar items containing propellants and solvents that can be siphoned from the cans and inhaled. Examples of aerosols that can be abused include:

  • cooking spray
  • fabric protector spray
  • hair spray
  • spray deodorant
  • spray paint

Volatile Solvents

Volatile solvents are liquid compounds that, when exposed in a room temperature environment, vaporize into volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These unstable hydrocarbons, which are considered a major source of indoor air pollution, are also inhaled to get high. Examples include:

  • adhesives
  • correction fluids
  • degreasers
  • dry cleaning fluids
  • felt tip markers
  • gasoline
  • lighter fluid
  • paint remover
  • paint thinners
  • nail polish remover
  • rubber cement


Like volatile solvents, certain gasses can be compressed into liquid form for commercial purposes and released in order to get high. Butane lighters, propane tanks, and refrigerants are examples.

In addition, certain medical anesthetics like chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide (laughing gas or whippets) are also abused in festival or recreational settings.


Nitrites, also known as poppers or snappers, are chemical compounds found in leather cleaners, air liquid air fresheners, and room deodorizers.

These compounds act directly on the central nervous system, dilating blood vessels and relaxing smooth muscles, oftentimes for sexual enhancement.

Effects & Dangers Of Inhalant Abuse

While snorting or huffing certain inhalants will have different or unusual effects, inhalants typically depress the central nervous system, producing a very brief high and intoxication similar to binge drinking.

However, this high often comes with significant side effects and both short- and long-term risks.

Inhalant Side-Effects

Common side effects of inhalant use include:

  • agitation
  • disassociation
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • euphoria
  • excitability
  • headache
  • lightheadedness
  • loss of coordination
  • muscle weakness
  • nose, throat, lung, or eye irritation
  • slurred speech
  • vision changes
  • upset stomach

Short-Term Risks Of Inhalant Abuse

Use of inhalants, even if it is a person’s first time, can cause unpredictable physical reactions in the body with serious or even deadly effects. This includes sudden sniffing death syndrome, a form of sudden death caused by toxic shock and abrupt heart failure.

Even if inhalant toxicity does not stop a person’s heart, inhalant drug use can cause:

  • arrhythmias
  • diarrhea
  • seizures
  • suffocation
  • hyperthermia (high body temperature)
  • psychosis (paranoia, delirium, hallucinations)
  • coma

Long-Term Risks Of Inhalant Abuse

Chronic abuse of inhalants will gradually degrade and kill brain cells and harm other organs, leading to physical and mental health effects such as:

  • brain damage including memory problems, personality changes, learning disabilities, and hallucinations
  • hearing and vision problems
  • heart rhythm changes
  • impaired coordination and movement
  • liver, kidney, and bone marrow injury
  • lung damage
  • muscle spasms
  • seizures
  • tremors
  • speaking problems
  • weakened immune system

Warning Signs Of Inhalant Abuse

While inhalant abuse is most common among 14, 15, and 16 year-old males, it can impact a wide variety of ages. Nitrous oxide in particular is often abused by adults in their twenties and thirties.

Common signs of inhalant abuse include:

  • accumulation of inhalant paraphernalia, including the substances listed above, whipped cream chargers, paper bags or plastic bags, soiled clothing items, balloons, and cardboard boxes
  • a chemical smell on a person’s breath or clothes
  • declining performance at work or in school
  • decreased appetite and weight loss
  • irritation around the nose and mouth
  • confusion and memory lapses
  • neglected hygiene and personal grooming
  • nosebleeds, runny nose, or breathing problems
  • stained clothing or hands
  • sudden change in friends and hobbies
  • unusual apathy and fatigue
  • unusual irritability, hostility, paranoia, or depression

Treating Inhalant Abuse

Unlike so-called hard drugs (opioids, methamphetamine, etc.) the risk of developing physical dependence on inhalants is comparatively low.

However, because these drugs offer such a brief, hard-hitting, repeatable high, they can be psychologically addictive. And, following a period of chronic use, those attempting to stop abusing inhalants may still experience withdrawal symptoms that increase their risk of relapse.

Fortunately, healthcare providers can treat inhalant addiction using the same addiction treatment methods used to effectively manage recovery from other forms of substance use disorder. These treatment options include:

  • medical detoxification
  • cognitive behavior therapy
  • motivational enhancement therapy
  • individual or group counseling
  • family counseling
  • alternative therapies
  • peer support groups
  • aftercare support

For inhalant abuse, these treatments are most often provided in an outpatient setting, though severe inhalant abuse is sometimes treated through inpatient/residential treatment programs.

For information on our outpatient programs, please contact us today.

Written by
Northeast Addition Editorial Team

Published on

©2024 Northeast Addition Center | All Rights Reserved

This page does not provide medical advice.

Ready to make a change? Talk to a specialist now.