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Inhalants & Solvents

Individuals may become physically dependent on inhalants and solvents, which include petrol, glue, and aerosol sprays (including paint, waterproofing material, etc.) and paint thinner.

There is clinical evidence that withdrawal from inhalant use is similar to that experienced by persons withdrawing from alcohol.

For further information on inhalants follow the links below:

What Are Inhalants?

Inhalants are a diverse group of substances that include volatile solvents, gases, and nitrites that are sniffed, snorted, huffed, or bagged to produce intoxicating effects similar to alcohol.

These substances are found in common household products like glues, lighter fluid, cleaning fluids, and paint products.

How Are They Abused?

Inhalant abuse is the deliberate inhaling or sniffing of these substances to get high, and it is estimated that about 1,000 substances are misused in this manner.

The easy accessibility, low cost, legal status, and ease of transport and concealment make inhalants one of the first substances abused by children.

Survey data indicates that about 15 to 20 percent of junior and senior high school students have tried inhalants with about 2 to 6 percent reporting current use. The highest incidence of use is among 10 to 12 year old children with rates of use declining with age.

Inhalants may be sniffed directly from an open container or huffed from a rag soaked in the substance and held to the face.

Alternatively, the open container or soaked rag can be placed in a bag where the vapors can concentrate before being inhaled.

Some chemicals are painted on the hands or fingernails or placed on shirt sleeves or wrist bands to enable an abuser to continually inhale the fumes without being detected by a teacher or other adult.

Although inhalant abusers may prefer one particular substance because of taste or odor, a variety of substances may be used because of similar effects, availability, and cost.

Parents worry about alcohol, tobacco, and drug use but may be unaware of the hazards associated with products found throughout their homes. Knowing what these products are, how they might be harmful, and recognizing the signs and symptoms of their use as inhalants, can help a parent prevent inhalant abuse.

Where Is It Found?

Volatile solvents are found in a number of everyday products. Some of these products include nail polish remover, lighter fluid, gasoline, paint and paint thinner, rubber glue, waxes, and varnishes.

Chemicals found in these products include toluene, benzene, methanol, methylene chloride, acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, methyl butyl ketone, trichhloroethylene, and trichlorethane.

The gas used as a propellant in canned whipped cream and in small lavender metallic containers called “whippets” (used to make whipped cream) is nitrous oxide or “laughing gas”–the same gas used by dentists for anesthesia.

Tiny cloth-covered ampules called poppers or snappers by abusers contain amyl nitrite, a medication used to dilate blood vessels. Butyl nitrite, sold as tape head cleaner and referred to as “rush,” “locker room,” or “climax,” is often sniffed or huffed to get high.

What Is the Effect?

Once inhaled, the extensive capillary surface of the lungs allows rapid absorption of the substance and blood levels peak rapidly. Entry into the brain is fast and the intoxicating effects are intense but short lived.

Inhalants depress the central nervous system, producing decreased respiration and blood pressure. Users report distortion in perceptions of time and space. Many users experience headaches, nausea, slurred speech, and loss of motor coordination.

A rash around the nose and mouth may be seen, and the abuser may start wheezing. An odor of paint or organic solvents on clothes, skin, and breath is sometimes a sign of inhalant abuse.

Other indicators of inhalant abuse include slurred speech or staggering gait, red, glassy, watery eyes, and excitability or unpredictable behavior.

The chronic use of inhalants has been associated with a number of serious health problems. Glue and paint thinner sniffing produce kidney abnormalities while the solvents toluene and trichloroethylene cause liver damage.

Deaths resulting from heart failure, asphyxiation, or aspiration have occurred.