Get The Facts About Inhalants and Huffing

Information for Teens

Inhalants are everyday products such as glue, gasoline, and hairspray, which some teens try to get high from by sniffing or "huffing" them. Though it may not seem dangerous, huffing is one way many teens hurt themselves -- or die -- each year. Get the facts about inhalants: what they are, how they work, and why they're dangerous to use, even just once.

What Are Inhalants?

Close Up Spray Can
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Inhalants, as you may have guessed, are substances such as paint, gasoline and glue that can be sniffed or inhaled to get high. Some people use inhalants to kick-start their sex drive. People call inhalants by a lot of different names, including "snappers," "poppers," "whippets" and "amies." Some people refer to inhaling as "huffing" or "dusting." Whatever you call it, it's not safe!

Teens sometimes inhale fumes from household products from plastic bags or balloons, or by sniffing a vapor-soaked rag. Inhalants can also be sniffed, snorted or sprayed into the mouth or nose. Some people inhale over and over again in a short time period to make the high last longer, putting them at great risk of harming themselves.

Who Uses Inhalants?

Though people of all ages use inhalants, they're a very popular means of getting high for teens and "tweens". A 2005 survey by researchers at the University of Michigan found that 17% of 8th graders, 13% of 10th graders and 11% of 12th graders had used inhalants at least once.

What Kinds of Substances Do Teens Huff?

There are a lot of different household products that people try to inhale. These products fall into four categories:

  • Gases may come from household products such as whipped cream dispensers, butane lighters and propane tanks. Sometimes people inhale gases that are supposed to be used in hospitals, such as nitrous oxide, chloroform and ether.
  • Volatile solvents include glue, gasoline, felt-tip pen ink, paints and paint thinner.
  • Aerosols are often found in the kitchen and bathroom. They include cooking sprays, static cling removers, spray paint and hairspray.
  • Nitrites such as cyclohexl nitrite and butyl nitrite are found in many room deodorizers, leather cleaners and cleaning products for electronics.

Are Inhalants Addictive?

Over time, many people find that they need more inhalants to experience the mind-altering effects they are used to getting. Once somebody is hooked on inhalants, it's very difficult to kick the habit and more likely that serious damage to the body will occur.

What's so Dangerous About Inhalant Drugs?

First of all, using inhalants clouds a person’s ability to make good decisions. If you inhale, you’re more likely to get into an accident or a fight.

Second, you can die from inhaling. Lots of people choke on their own vomit after inhaling, and some people’s hearts just stop beating. This is known as Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome. People who inhale from a bag or in closed spaces can suffocate to death.

Third, inhaling puts you at risk for serious health problems, including permanent damage to your brain, central nervous system, bone marrow, and sense of hearing or smell. Kidney, lung and liver damage can also result from inhalant use, as can severe nosebleeds and headaches. Some people even experience depression from using inhalants.

How Can I Help a Friend Who Huffs?

It's especially important to help friends who struggle with drug addiction. If your friend has an inhalant problem, encourage him or her to talk to a counselor, doctor or nurse at school, a hospital or a community mental health clinic. Get all the help you can to get your friend to make a counseling or doctor's appointment: Talk to the school nurse, your doctor or even your guidance counselor for suggestions and assistance.

If you're concerned about your own inhalant use, you should talk to a doctor, nurse or counselor as well, or call a drug-treatment center in your area. Many drug-treatment and rehab facilities offer free and confidential consultations for teens, and they can help you get control of your cravings.