What are inhalants?

Inhalants are breathable chemicals that produce psychoactive (mind-altering) vapors.  People do not usually think of inhalants as drugs because most of them were never meant to be used that way.  Inhalants are often among the first drugs that young children use.  Data from national and state surveys suggest that inhalant abuse is most common among 7th through 9th- graders.  They include:  solvents, aerosols, some anesthetics, and other chemicals. Examples are model airplane glue, nail polish remover, felt tip marker fluid, lighter and cleaning fluids, and gasoline.  Aerosols that are used may include paints, cookware coating agents, hair sprays, and air duster for electronics.  Anesthetics include halothane and nitrous oxide.  Street names for inhalants include: "whippets," "poppers," and "snappers".   Nitrites is a class of inhalants used primarily as a sexual enhancer.  Organic nitrites include amyl, butyl, and cyclohexyl nitrites.  When marketed for illicit use, these nitrites are often sold in small brown bottles and labeled as "video head cleaner," "room odorizer," "leather cleaner," or "liquid aroma."

What are the warning signs?

Inhalants can be breathed through the nose or mouth in a variety of ways: "sniffing" or "snorting fumes from containers, spraying aerosols directly into the nose or mouth, sniffing or inhaling fumes from substances sprayed into a plastic or paper bag ("bagging"), "huffing" from an inhalant-soaked rag stuffed in the mouth, or inhaling from balloons filled with nitrous oxide.

Initial effects include nausea, sneezing, coughing, nosebleeds, feelings and looking tired, bad breath, lack of coordination, and a loss of appetite.  Deep breathing of the vapors or heavy use in a short period of time may result in losing touch with one's surroundings, a loss of self-control, violent behavior, or unconsciousness.  Use can cause nausea and vomiting, which can result in death by aspiration.

What are the effects?

Most inhalants produce a rapid high that resembles alcohol intoxication.  If sufficient amounts are inhaled, nearly all solvents and gases produce a loss of sensation, and even unconsciousness.  Long-term use can cause weight loss, fatigue, electrolyte (salt) imbalance, and muscle fatigue.  Repeated use of several years can cause permanent damage to the nervous system, which results in greatly reduced physical and mental capabilities.  In addition, long-term sniffing of certain inhalants can damage the liver, kidneys, blood, and bone marrow.  Tolerance, which means the "sniffer" or "huffer" needs more and more each time to get the same effect, is likely to develop from most inhalants when used regularly.

How can someone get help?

The first step is to determine if there is a problem.  A Certified Addictions Counselor can effectively perform an assessment to determine what level of care is most appropriate.  For a free confidential assessment, call the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery at (800) 522-3784.  An assessment can be completed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Appointments are preferred, but walk-ins are always welcome.

Sources:  National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse, American Psychiatric Association