What Are Inhalants?

Substance abuse comes in all forms, including some very surprising ones. Inhalants are a group of extremely toxic drugs that can make you high when you breathe them in. The best way to avoid the danger is to be aware of the consequences.

The first time the public ever heard of inhalant abuse was in the 1950s, when the news media reported that young people were seeking a cheap high by sniffing glue. The phrase “sniffing glue” is still sometimes used today to indicate the abuse of many different kinds of inhalants.

Types of Inhalants

Inhalants are often categorized in four different groups—solvents, aerosols, anesthetics, and nitrites. Solvents include paint thinner, gasoline, glue, and felt-tip marker fluid. Aerosols are sprays that contain propellants as well as solvents; this includes spray paint, deodorant, hair sprays, and cooking and fabric sprays. Anesthetics are gases used in medicine such as ether, chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide, commonly referred to as laughing gas. Nitrates, also known as “poppers,” include chemicals found in room deodorizers and chemicals used during heart exams.

Inhalants are often the first drugs that young people try. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), twelve-year-old kids are “more likely to get high from common, legal household substances including aerosol computer cleaners, air fresheners, hair spray or shoe polish than use cigarettes or marijuana.” The National Survey on Drug Use & Health (NSDUH) has reported that 17.2 percent of adolescents who started using drugs indicated that inhalants were the first drug they used. In 2013, the annual Monitoring the Future Study reported use of inhalants had declined. The sharpest decline was among eighth graders, who had previously shown the highest rate of use. Inhalant abuse is a common drug problem because the products or inhalants that contain the poisons that make you high are readily available and inexpensive. According to the NSDUH, almost 10 percent of Americans over the age of twelve have abused inhalants at least once.

According to the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, over 850,000 people have tried inhalants. Inhalant abusers come from all different racial backgrounds. They can be rich or poor. Inhalants are abused in major cities and in rural areas. In the past, most inhalant users were male, but recently more females have begun to abuse inhalants.

Inhalants are usually abused by children who want to experiment with their effects. This experimentation commonly decreases as people grow older. The NSDUH has reported that approximately 85 percent of inhalant users are less than twenty-five years old.

Even though so many children try inhalants, the abuse of inhalants is not innocent, and it’s certainly not safe. Inhalants are addictive drugs that can do serious damage to your brain and your body, and can even kill you.

Ways to Inhale

Common model glue is an example of an inhalant. A person can get high on glue in a few different ways. “Sniffing” is inhaling fumes through the nose, “huffing” is breathing fumes through the mouth, and “bagging” is breathing inhalants through the mouth and nose from a bag. Inhaling glue makes you feel giddy and uncoordinated, and makes you slur your speech. The poisons in the glue, in the form of solvents, change the way the brain works. The effect can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours and can produce a quick, powerful, and extremely dangerous high.

The high from inhalants is often described as second only to intravenous injection in its speed and effectiveness. However, because the high normally lasts only for several minutes, many young people sniff or huff on a continual basis, increasing damage to the brain and body.

Sniffing, snorting, huffing, or bagging may make you feel cool, outgoing, or happy, but only for a little while. Remember that every time you get high, you are harming your brain. The damage you do may be permanent, and although you may feel cool, you don’t look or act cool when you abuse drugs.