While many types of drugs can be inhaled, “inhalants” refers to drugs that are abused only in this way. They are typically household products that were never intended to be used as drugs, and their abuse can have severe negative side effects.
Inhalants fall into four main categories: volatile solvents, aerosols, gases, and nitrites. Volatile solvents are chemicals that vaporize at room temperature. They include common household cleaning solutions, degreasers, paint thinner, white-out, and markers, to name just a few. Aerosols come in spray cans; this category includes things like hairspray, computer cleaning spray, spray paints, and cooking sprays. Gases can be found in household medical products as well as household and commercial products. The most commonly abused gas is nitrous oxide, or “laughing gas.” Nitrites, or “poppers” are a bit different than the other inhalants. They are typically abused by adults and are used to increase sexual pleasure.
When inhaled, or “huffed,” these chemicals depress the central nervous system, producing effects very similar to alcohol. Users experience euphoria, loss of coordination, dizziness, slurred speech, slowed reaction time, and reduced inhibitions. In high doses, inhalants can cause hallucinations, delusions, and in extreme cases, sudden heart failure.
Long-term inhalant abuse can lead to permanent brain, liver and kidney damage. It can lead to hearing loss and to loss of coordination or limb spasms due to a damaged myelin sheath (the protective coating around nerve fibers). It can also lead bone marrow damage.
Inhalants are the only class of drugs that are abused more by young teenagers than by older teenagers or adults. According to the 2012 Monitoring the Future study, 6.2 percent of eighth graders had abused inhalants in the past year, versus 2.9 percent of twelfth graders. This may be due to the easy accessibility of inhalants for younger teens.
Inhalants are not typically as addictive as other drugs, but prolonged use can lead to addiction. Serenity House offers a residential drug treatment program that addresses the underlying factors that contribute to addiction. We help equip you with the tools you need to find recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.