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photo of a teenage girl inhaling something through an oxygen tube

Inhalant addiction most commonly occurs amongst preteenagers, teenagers and the homeless. Inhalants are often used to get high when users cannot acquire the illicit drugs they actually would prefer to be taking. The practice of inhaling a volatile liquid that has been poured onto a cloth-based item, such as towels or rags, inhaled by placing the liquid in an absorbent material in a bag, or from an opened vessel is called huffing, sniffing, and bagging.

Inhalants Are Everywhere

Inhalants are a group of volatile or pressurized liquids or gases that are inhaled to attain an altered mental state. Inhalants are psychoactive chemicals that pose many psychiatric and medical dangers. Inhalants include fuels, glues, propellants, paint thinners, nail polish and nail polish remover, and multiple other volatile or gaseous products such as gasoline, butane, and toluene that are ubiquitous in the modern world, enabling those with inhalant addiction to have easy access to these deadly toxins.

Even Medical Inhalants Can Be Abused

There are also gaseous anesthetics that are used for sedation, pain relief, and in general anesthesia, such as nitrous oxide, desflurane, sevoflurane, isoflurane and others that can be used by those suffering from inhalant addiction. The most commonly abused of these substances, nitrous oxide, is often present at rave parties and other similar events, where the gas is often inhaled from balloons and containers called whippits.

Signs & Symptoms of Inhalant Addiction

Because inhalant addiction is not a problem many people are familiar with, the addict’s loved ones may often miss the symptoms of this type of substance abuse. If you notice any of the following signs of inhalant addiction, take action before it is too late. Your friend or family member may be one “huff” or “sniff” away from doing permanent damage to their health – or even losing their life to inhalant abuse. Signs of inhalant addiction include:

  • Rashes around the mouth or nose
  • Various containers of inhalants laying around the house, in bags, or hidden in various locations
  • Stains from inhalants on clothing, rugs, and body
  • Inhalant odors in the environment or on the inhalant addict’s body, breath, or hair
  • Bizarre behavior, such as slurred speech, nausea and vomiting, “zoning-out,” poor coordination, and strange mood swings
infographic about inhalant addiction showing used whippits containers

Categories of Abused Inhalants

Although all inhalants are potentially deadly and can lead to inhalant addiction when abused, there are certain specific categories that each have their own individual dangers and commonalities. For our purposes, we have divided the diverse array of potentially-abused inhalants into 3 categories: solvents, gases, and nitrites (also known as “poppers”). Each of these categories of inhalants is described in more detail below. It is important to note that inhalants of any category are particularly dangerous due to the ever-present deadly possibility of addicts experiencing sudden sniffing death syndrome (SSDS), a cardiac problem caused by an irregular heart beat that is created by the substance being inhaled.

Inhalants by Category

Solvent Inhalant Addiction

Solvents: Toluene • Acetone • Petroleum Products

Solvent inhalant addiction occurs in those who use rapidly drying glues, adhesives, pain and petroleum products, lighter fluid, dry-cleaning fluids and other cleaners to get high. These folks are most commonly male, impoverished, and potentially homeless. The solvents and inhaled directly from the container, or via a plastic bag. It is unclear whether solvents create physical dependence, but they certainly evoke psychological dependence; so much so, that many of those with an inhalant addiction develop irreversible brain damage.

The inhalation of a solvent provides an almost immediate rush, extreme euphoria, a sense of anxiety reduction, dissociation and the potential for hallucinations. Because these effects are pleasurable, but short-lived, those with an inhalant addiction repeat the process of sniffing, or huffing, the product many times a day, sometimes almost continuously.

The drug addicts who partake in solvent abuse can appear confused, with unpredictable behavior, slurred speech and uncoordinated. Inhalant abuse and addiction ultimately leads to untimely morbidity (illness) and mortality. Common causes of morbidity and mortality in inhalant abusers are accidents, violence, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, liver, kidney and heart problems and severe lung problems. The most common cause of death is from cardiac arrhythmias or asphyxiation.

Gas Inhalant Addiction

Gases: Chlorofluorocarbons • Nitrous Oxide • Butane • Propane

Gas inhalant addicts use gases found in hair spray, deodorants, non-stick cooking sprays, and butane, propane, and nitrous oxide containers to achieve a fast-acting high. They then repeat the process, often almost-continuously, to keep their level of intoxication going. For those that are heavily addicted to gas inhalants, it is not uncommon for them to go through several bottles of deodorant, hair spray, or air dusters in a day. In fact, hoarding multiple aerosol containers, or storing them in illogical places it is a telltale sign of gas inhalant addiction. These are typically inhaled by placing the gas in a plastic bag or other vessel and inhaling the resultant mixture of environmental air and the contaminant gas.

These substances can produce short-term euphoria, sedation and anxiety relief. They also cause a drunk appearance, with staggered gait, slurred speech, and disinhibition occurring frequently. The substances also act as central nervous system depressants. With the long-term use common among those with inhalant addiction, lung damage, internal organ (heart, kidney, lung, and liver) damage, and brain damage can occur. In addition, asphyxia can occur at any time in the progression of the development of inhalation addiction.

Nitrite Inhalant Addiction

Nitrites: Amyl Nitrite • Butyl Nitrite • Isobutyl Nitrite • Isopropyl Nitrite • Cyclohexyl Nitrite

Although nitrites, in the form of amyl nitrite, are a legally prescribed prescription medication for the treatment of angina (poor blood flow to the heart muscle with resultant chest pain) and for use during cardiac arrest, they are also an abusable drug by those suffering from inhalant addiction. Often referred to as “poppers,” these inhalants are abused to gain excitation and euphoria, especially in sexual situations or in clubs. Although it is illegal to sell nitrites for human consumption, they are frequently and conveniently sold as video head cleaners, computer cleaners, or room deodorizers to escape the drug laws governing their sale.

Because nitrites cause the blood vessels to dilate, one can experience headaches, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, and light-headed-ness and even pass out when using nitrites. An overdose of this category of inhalants can cause respiratory problems and cardiac abnormalities and puts those with underlying medical problems at serious risk. Ling-term use of nitrite inhalants has also been linked to reports of lung, heart, liver, red blood cell, immune, and even brain damage – making it essential that those with nitrite inhalant addiction seek help as soon as possible before the do permanent damage to their minds and bodies.

End Inhalant Addiction Today

Don’t let inhalant addiction become a death sentence for you or your loved ones. Call BWR now at 800-683-4457 to get the help you need to end this devastating and deadly cycle of addiction. Our operators are available 24/7 to help inhalant abusers start on the road to recovery and a happier and healthier life.


Behavioral Wellness & Recovery is a Joint Commission accredited program. The Joint Commission recognizes excellence in health care organizations and programs.


Behavioral Wellness & Recovery is a Joint Commission accredited program. The Joint Commission recognizes excellence in health care organizations and programs.

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