Inhalant Addiction and Abuse

Addiction to Inhalants

Even though national surveys indicate that 21.7 million Americans have used inhalants at least once in their lives, inhalant abuse is less common than other drugs, and most cases occur in more isolated regions. However, inhalants do have addictive qualities. The danger of an inhalant addiction shouldn’t be overlooked just because it is less common than others.

People who use inhalants on a regular basis over a long period of time can develop a physical and psychological dependence on the substance.

Inhalant use is most prevalent among teenagers. Studies suggest that between 13.1% and 16.1% of 8 graders use inhalants, which is approximately the same percentage that use marijuana. People who are unable to control their inhalant use despite knowing the negative consequences and health effects are generally considered to have an addiction. Even those with an overwhelming desire to stop abusing inhalants may be unable to do so. The ready availability of inhalants at home and in stores may make it difficult for someone with a severe addiction to quit on their own.

Understanding Inhalants

Inhalants are volatile, often flammable substances that vaporize at room temperature. Inhalants produce short-lived, mind-altering effects that can be similar to alcohol’s effects. Inhalants encompass a wide variety of chemicals and anesthetics categorized together based on their method of administration: inhalation. These substances are often referred to as whippets, laughing gas, huff or hippie crack.

Substances Considered Inhalants

Inhalant abuse includes the misuse of household solvents, gases and anesthetics. Household inhalants can be anything from cleaning products to gasoline.

Anesthetics are gases used to medically reduce sensitivity to pain. Nitrous oxide and chloroform are some well-known anesthetics. Nitrous oxide is best known as “laughing gas” and is commonly used by dentists. This gas is also used in cans of whipped cream, which is where most abusers get it.

Amyl nitrite is also a popular inhalant that has been used to increase blood flow in people with heart disease. Nitrites are oftentimes subjugated to their own class of inhalants because they act primarily as a muscle relaxant, different from the effects of other inhalants.

Classes of Inhalants

Solvents

  • Paint thinners
  • Dry-cleaning fluids
  • Gasoline
  • Lighter fluid
  • Correction fluids
  • Felt-tip marker fluid
  • Electronic contact cleaners
  • Glue
  • Nail polish
  • Nail polish remover

Aerosols

  • Spray paint
  • Hair spray
  • Deodorant spray
  • Aerosol computer cleaning products
  • Vegetable oil sprays

Gases

  • Butane lighters
  • Propane tanks
  • Whipped cream dispenses (commonly referred to as whippets)
  • Ether
  • Chloroform
  • Nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”)
  • Freon

Nitrites

  • Video head cleaner
  • Room odorizer
  • Leather cleaner
  • Liquid aroma