Types of Inhalants

In today’s world, products that give off fumes are used for a wide range of applications. Paints, glue, gasoline, lighter fluid, and many other products that people use in daily life can emit potent fumes that necessitate good ventilation and minimal exposure. Unfortunately, some people use common chemical products as inhalants for the purpose of getting a recreational high or in an attempt to escape from life challenges. Inhalant abuse is, sadly, not uncommon.

Using inhalants as drugs can have dire health consequences that can lead to a rapid reduction in brain function and a wide range of other health problems. If you or a loved one are currently using abusing inhalants, you should get a better understanding of the addiction you are dealing with and consider getting professional help.

Types of Inhalants

Inhalants come in many different forms. Unfortunately, some inhalants can be very harmful to human health. When someone is addicted to inhalants, they often move between substances depending on availability. Most inhalants cause people to feel similar “highs”. However, other inhalants can make people pass out or feel numb.

Paint Thinners

Paint thinner is the most common inhalant used by drug users. This product can be found in local hardware stores, and it produces very potent fumes. Paint thinner evaporates rapidly because of its chemical properties, so it quickly gets into the air in a way that can get people high quickly. When paint thinner is abused, it can cause serious neurological damage.

Medical Anesthetic Gassesinhalant abuse

People who have access to medical supplies can sometimes abuse these supplies to get high. Halothane, nitrous oxide, and chloroform can be abused because they can make people feel numb or even knock them out. Abusing these substances can be very dangerous, and death can follow in the event of an overdose.


Gasoline is widely used in automobiles, but it has a strong potential for abuse. Huffing gasoline is sadly common among teenagers and has a tendency to lead to worse forms of abuse.


Glue products that contain toluene or naphthalene are popular inhalants because they’re easily obtained. If you have ever used this type of glue for an art project, you know it gives off potent fumes. Sadly, some people choose to inhale glues to get high, and inhaling glue in this way can be highly addictive.


Butane is commonly found in lighters that are easily purchased at corner gas stations. Unfortunately, Butane has a high potential for abuse, and it can be purchased inexpensively.

Spray Paint

Spray paint releases VOC fumes that can be harmful when inhaled. People who huff spray paint expose themselves to a wide range of potential health problems since the substances used in spray paints have not been extensively tested for safety. Spray paint also causes short-term complications, including headaches, nausea, and throat irritation.

Signs of Inhalant Abuse

People who abuse inhalants exhibit specific signs that friends and family members can use to recognize when their loved one is using inhalants. Recognizing the signs of abusing inhalants is important so that loved ones can intervene before the consequences of substance abuse cause greater problems in the future. Detecting substance abuse early can help to avoid serious problems that come with the abuse of inhalants, such as mental disorders, permanent brain damage, and terminal health conditions. Some of the key signs of abusing inhalants include:

  • vomiting
  • inability to focus
  • poor coordination
  • slurring of speech
  • inebriated appearance
  • smells of chemicals on laundry
  • paint on hands, face, or clothing
  • discovering hidden spray bottles
  • smells of chemicals from a person’s breath

If your loved one exhibits the symptoms listed above, inhalant abuse could be the cause.

Patterns of Abuse: What to Look For

If you believe a loved one is using an inhalant as a drug, you should watch their behavior patterns for signs of abuse. Unfortunately, the signs of abuse are not always apparent, and people who abuse inhalants often make excuses when confronted about whether they are abusing a substance. Therefore, the monitoring of behaviors is often necessary for discovering the truth.

Again, a person’s life at work or school can sometimes be linked to inhalant abuse. If you have heard your loved one talk about using products that create fumes at work, there is an elevated risk that they could be struggling with inhalant addiction. However, the observance of additional signs will be needed to determine whether inhalants are the actual problem you are dealing with.

In other cases, inhalants can be used recreationally among friends. Peer pressure can be a strong motivator for people to start using inhalants. Consider whether your loved one’s friends abuse other illicit substances. Recently becoming close with a new group of friends can be a sign of the abuse of inhalants in the right context. New friends are especially likely to be encouraging abuse when a loved one returns home at unusual hours smelling like chemicals.

Many people who abuse inhalants take breaks in their garage or in an unused room. Smell the air after your loved one leaves an empty room. Additionally, cars are ideal for using inhalant drugs because they offer confined spaces where substances can be abused with a relatively high level of privacy. Although cars can be locked, evidence of abusing inhalants can be apparent by looking through the window. Look for signs of paint on door handles or seats.

Problems With Inhalant Abuse

Inhalant RehabIt is important to keep in mind that many people who engage in inhalant abuse do not usually do so voluntarily. Sometimes, people can get initial exposure to inhalants at work or even at school. Heavy exposure over time can lead to inhalant addictions.

Furthermore, many people who suffer from inhalant abuse start with seemingly innocent experimentation. Some inhalant abusers “discover” the potential of these substances to induce a high after spending too much time with chemicals in an unventilated room. After experiencing an initial high, some people can feel hooked. These types of experiences can be especially problematic when they happen on a routine basis because of ongoing responsibilities.

Inhalants are usually poisonous when inhaled excessively. As a result, inhalants can quickly cause very severe health problems. Some lifelong health issues can emerge after trying to get high from an inhalant even once. Additionally, since inhalants are almost always huffed for arbitrary periods of time, abusers have no way of knowing when they are close to experiencing an overdose.

Taking in too much of an inhalant can be especially problematic when huffing is done in a confined space where ventilation will not occur if the substance abuser passes out. Therefore, hospitalizations and fatalities are common among inhalant abusers. Additionally, there are few treatments for inhalant overdoses, and negative symptoms can sometimes persist for life because of permanent damage.

The bottom line is that abusing inhalants is a very serious problem that addicted people should take seriously. Inhalant addictions can be overcome, but the psychological and physiological damage inhalants can cause usually persists for life. With every high, further damage is done to your body and mind. As a result, you should take prompt action to address your addiction in a way that leads to immediately stopping any ongoing abuse of inhalants while ensuring that urges to return to using the substance can continue to be resisted for life.

Health Consequence of Inhalant Abuse

Abusing inhalants can cause very severe health consequences. Brain damage is the most common problem associated with using inhalants. Every time an individual huffs inhalant drugs, they kill off brain cells that can never be repaired. As a result, even infrequent inhalant use can have serious effects on memory, attention, and mental acuity.

Other health problems caused by using inhalants can be subdivided into short-term complications and long-term complications. Some of the short-term complications associated with inhalant abuse include:

  • vomiting
  • insomnia
  • numbness
  • drowsiness
  • rapid agitation
  • slurred speech
  • loss of sensation
  • lightheadedness
  • unconsciousness
  • death

Although many people who abuse inhalants perceive short-term complications to be relatively mild, individuals take potentially fatal risks with continuous use. As with any drug, death can happen if too much of a substance is taken within a specific period of time. Worst of all, there is a broad range of dire long-term complications that many inhalant abusers experience:

  • cancer
  • memory loss
  • muscle spasms
  • poor coordination
  • reduced brain function
  • liver or kidney damage
  • damage to bone marrow
  • chemically induced hearing loss

Treatment for Inhalant Abuse

When people who abuse inhalants are aware of the health problems that can quickly emerge, they usually become motivated to seek help. Some problems may not be reversible, but many of the symptoms can be reduced. Most importantly, getting addiction help can prevent you from abusing inhalants again in the future. As a result, you can live a healthier, cleaner, and longer life.

The first step for treating inhalant addictions is to recognize you have a problem. Once you can admit you need help, you can talk to medical specialists. In many cases, doctors will recommend that you spend time at a rehab facility. Rehab will give you a break from your daily habits that may be encouraging abuse while giving you the chance to study solutions to your addiction problems. Modern rehab programs have been proven to be effective, and they give you the chance to interact with other people who are struggling with similar addictions.

Get the Help You Need

If you are struggling with an addiction to inhalants, you should not have to get through the recovery process on your own. Reach out to our team today to learn how you can take to first step toward getting clean.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Laura Riley

Medical Reviewer

Laura comes to NJRC with 23 years of vast clinical experience in hospital, residential, outpatient, and community outreach settings where she has worked, supervised clinical teams, and volunteered. She has provided substance abuse and mental health counseling, clinical coordination, and advocacy to individuals, families and groups, and specializes in co-occurring disorders for both adults and adolescents.