What is Inhalant Abuse?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2018
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Inhalant abuse is the purposeful inhalation of substances in order to get some form of high or brief alteration in consciousness. The problem is huge, particularly affecting teens. One of the reasons control of this issue remains challenging is because there exists over 1000 substances that are easy to get and often already present in homes. Another reason inhalant abuse seems so prevalent is that it is not always thought of as a danger by parents; they may be more likely to educate kids about the dangers of illegal drugs, while forgetting to discuss the extremely serious consequences of inhaling household chemicals.

There are a number of different types of substances teens may try to inhale. These include aerosolized products, a variety of solvents and glues, and others. Inhalant abuse may be happen in many forms and could be called huffing, sniffing, or by other names, depending on how the product is abused. In most cases, contact with the inhalant results in an immediate high similar to taking an anesthetic; this could quickly fade or last for a few hours.

There can be minor adverse affects to inhalant abuse. People might develop headaches, nausea or other symptoms that make the experience unpleasant and less likely to be repeated. In absence of these symptoms, some people continue to use inhalants, and if the high is short they may repeat use many times, creating significant risk to health.


Clearly, the most severe risk to health is called sudden sniffing death syndrome, which can occur with the first use of an inhalant. The body’s contact with the chemicals in the inhalant results in cardiac arrest, and this may cause immediate death, particularly if the person is alone. Sometimes, 911 is called in time, but more often, results are tragic. Likelihood of death from using inhalants does not decrease with continued use, and this syndrome may occur at any time, presenting a constant risk to life.

For this reason, inhalant abuse must be strongly discouraged and the statistics on this practice are daunting. Almost 20% of kids in countries like the US use an inhalant by the time they are 13 or 14. This use must always be considered abuse, because it uses a chemical in a dangerous manner not recommended by the chemical manufacturer.

What parents should know about inhalant abuse is that it is a subject worthy of discussion with children, and potentially lifesaving. There are many excellent Internet sites that give guidelines on how to discuss it, how to recognize signs of it, and how to identify common chemicals that tend to be abused in this manner. These can be great places to start in helping to stem the flow of this dangerous trend.



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