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What is Inhalant Abuse?

What Is Inhalant Abuse?

Simply put, inhalant abuse is the deliberate inhalation of products for the purpose of getting high. For teens and children, curiosity, peer pressure, and lack of education contribute to this dangerous behavior. As a parent, school nurse, teacher, or school resource officer, educating yourself about inhalant abuse and having a conversation with the children and teens in your life can make all the difference.

How Can Products Be Abused?

Inhalant abuse is referred to as huffing, sniffing, dusting, or bagging and generally occurs through the nose or mouth. Huffing is when a chemically soaked rag is held to the face or stuffed in the mouth and the substance is inhaled. Sniffing can be done directly from containers, plastic bags, clothing, or rags saturated with a substance or from the product directly. With bagging, substances are sprayed or deposited into a plastic or paper bag and the vapors are inhaled. This method can result in suffocation because a bag is placed over the individual’s head, cutting off the supply of oxygen.

Other methods used include placing inhalants on sleeves, collars, or other items of clothing that are sniffed over a period of time. Fumes are discharged into soda cans or balloons are filled with nitrous oxide and the vapors are inhaled. Heating volatile substances and inhaling the vapors emitted is another form of inhalant abuse. All of these methods are potentially harmful or deadly. Experts estimate that there are several hundred deaths each year from inhalant abuse, although under-reporting is still a problem.

What Products Can Be Abused?

There are more than a 1,400 products that are potentially dangerous when inhaled, such as typewriter correction fluid, air conditioning coolant, gasoline, propane, felt tip markers, spray paint, air freshener, butane, cooking spray, paint, and glue. Most are common products that can be found in the home, garage, office, school, or as close as the local convenience store. The best advice for consumers is to read the labels before using a product to ensure the proper method is observed. It is also recommended that parents discuss the product labels with their children at age-appropriate times.

More than 1,400 products can be abused. They are legal and safe when used properly. Learn common products to know what to look for when you suspect a child or teen in your life is abusing inhalants.


Aerosols are self-dispensing, pressurized containers, including spray products and foam products, that are used by household, institutional, commercial, and industrial consumers.

Aerosols improve our quality of life in many ways. They provide benefits in medical treatment, health care, pest control, disease prevention, personal care and hygiene, household, automotive, and industrial cleaning maintenance. However, when abused and inhaled, they can cause serious harm and pose great danger to your health.

Examples of products being abused:

Check out the Inhalant Blog for inhalant abuse cases involving aerosols. Search by date, location, and product type.


Gases are used in household or commercial products, including butane lighters, propane tanks, and refrigerant gases. There are also medical anesthetic gases, such as ether and chloroform. It is important to note that medical anesthetic gases are useful and safe when they are administered by a doctor, but they can be dangerous when abused and used to obtain a high. Gases like butane, propane, and helium are never meant to be consumed.

Examples of products being abused:

  • Nitrous Oxide
  • Whippets
  • Butane
  • Propane
  • Helium
  • Ether
  • Chloroform
  • Halothane
  • Sulfur Hexafluoride
  • Inhalant Abuse Cases Involving Gases

Check out the Inhalant Blog for inhalant abuse cases involving gases and chemicals. Search by date, location, and product type.


Liquids are organic chemicals that are used to dissolve solid materials. Liquids can include paints, varnishes, inks, paint thinners, aerosol spray products, permanent marking pens, glues, adhesives, and much more. A liquid can also be a solvent, or a substance that is capable of dissolving other substances. Solvents such as lighter fluid, spot removers, and degreasers also fall under this category.

These products serve great purposes when they are used as intended and as directed on the product label. However, they are also unfortunately used for getting high. Liquid inhalant abuse involves inhaling the fumes of these products resulting in strong intoxication in the user. These products, and in some instances solvents, are also poured on rags and shirt sleeves and then inhaled.  Chemical-soaked rags may be a warning sign of abuse.

Examples of products being abused:

  • Nail polish remover
  • Paint thinner
  • Paint remover
  • Correction fluid
  • Toxic magic markers
  • Pure toluene
  • Lighter fluid
  • Gasoline
  • Carburetor cleaner
  • Octane booster
  • Air conditioning coolant
  • Lighters
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Dry cleaning fluid
  • Dry erase board cleaner
  • Adhesives/glue
  • Household cleaners (kitchen and bathroom cleaners)
  • Spot removers
  • Degreasers

Check out the Inhalant Blog for inhalant abuse cases involving liquids. Search by date, location, and product type.

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