Signs of Inhalant Abuse

Girl talking about her inhalant abuseWith so much public attention devoted to the abuse of illegal drugs like heroin or meth, or prescription narcotics like oxycodone and hydrocodone, inhalant abuse may be overlooked.

But in fact, the practice of inhaling chemical fumes to get high is extremely common, especially among teenagers. Inhalants are the most frequently abused substances after alcohol, marijuana, and cigarettes, according to the Alliance for Consumer Education. These chemicals are often the first drugs that children choose to experiment with.

One reason that inhalants are so popular among young people is that these drugs are extremely easy to obtain. Chemicals that produce intoxicating vapors can be found in just about any household garage, utility room, basement, kitchen, or bathroom. If inhalants aren’t available at home, the products can be purchased very cheaply at hardware stores, drug stores, or supermarkets. Some of the most widely used inhalants include everyday, legally obtainable items like gasoline, butane, nail polish remover, turpentine, correction fluid, aerosol deodorant, and model airplane glue. Even canned whipped cream contains a propellant gas that can be inhaled for a quick high.

How Inhalants Affect the Body

Inhalants are abused by breathing or sniffing the vapors from a chemical directly from the container or a soaked rag (a practice known as “huffing”) or by inhaling the fumes from a paper sack (“bagging”) or balloon. Because these chemicals quickly reach the brain, many of the signs of abuse can be detected immediately:

  • A chemical smell on the breath, skin, or clothes
  • Slurred speech
  • Reddened, watery eyes
  • Double vision
  • Unusual clumsiness
  • A red ring or scabs around the mouth
  • A runny nose
  • Frequent headaches
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of sleep
  • Stained fingernails

Parents may find chemical-soaked rags, paper sacks, or empty balloons in a child’s room or on his/her clothing. Because the fumes in inhalants can damage the skin, parents should look for dry or cracked lips and sores around a child’s mouth. These signs can help to differentiate between inhalant abuse and alcohol intoxication, which it often resembles.

Psychological and Behavioral Signs

Teenagers who are abusing inhalants will frequently show a decline in performance at school or in their extracurricular activities, along with a loss of interest in sober friends and family events. Other behavioral and emotional warning signs include:

  • Problems with memory or learning
  • Anxiety about everyday events
  • Dazed, disoriented behavior
  • Neglect of grooming and appearance

Addiction Science & Clinical Practice states that over 22 million adults and teens in the US have abused inhalants at least once in their lives. Inhalant abuse tends to decline among older adolescents and young adults, suggesting that those who try these drugs either give up drugs altogether or move on to harder substances, like alcohol or marijuana.

What Can Parents Do About Inhalant Abuse?

grown-ups discussing treatment for inhalant abuse Inhalant abuse can be a very sensitive subject, especially if your teen has already been experimenting with these products. While sniffing glue or huffing paint thinner might seem relatively harmless compared to abusing street drugs, inhalant use is a form of substance abuse that poses serious health risks, such as heart problems, liver and kidney damage, digestive complications, and in some cases, sudden death. Educating kids about the dangers of this practice and communicating your concern could stop or minimize self-destructive behavior and prevent the serious consequences of inhalant use.

Axis draws from the latest, cutting-edge therapeutic practices to create personalized treatment plans for substance abuse.

Staffed by a team of compassionate experts, our treatment facilities provide a safe, supportive environment for recovery from drug addiction. If you have questions about inhalant abuse or about our innovative programs for chemical dependency, call our 24-hour helpline for answers

Further Reading