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Why is Spray Paint Addictive?

Inhaling the fumes of propellants and solvents used in spray paint causes the user to experience a brief- but-intense euphoric rush. As with most abused inhalants this pleasurable effect is achieved because the toxic chemicals depress the central nervous system in the same manner as done by drinking alcohol or taking sedatives. Adolescents are the most vulnerable age group to inhalant abuse or addiction.

Sniffing, Spraying, Bagging or Huffing Paint

Users employ a variety of methods to inhale chemical fumes.

  • Sniffing from the container
  • Sprayed directly into mouth or nose
  • Bagging–inhaling fumes from substances sprayed into a paper or plastic bag
  • Huffing paint–stuffing paint-covered rags in their mouth

The most popular substances people inhale are household products like paint thinner, glue, aerosol sprays or other inhalants.

Inhaling Fumes is Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is the use or overuse of any chemical or drug in a manner other than what it is designed or prescribed. Bagging, sniffing, or huffing spray paint are obviously not the spray paints intended use. As with any substance abuse, the inhaling of spray paints or other substances from aerosol cans can lead to personal and health problems and substance addiction. People abusing inhalants often need professional assistance in stopping the practice and staying clear of it in the future. Several government agencies provide addiction resources and information on treatment options.

Inhaling spray paint fumes is popular because it is cheap and easily obtained. The euphoria is brief, however, and abusers tend to do it often over several hours to prolong the effect. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says that while addiction to spray paints is uncommon, continued inhaling of the fumes can lead to that condition, causing health problems and failure to fulfill home, work, or school responsibilities. NIDA says that cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the best ways to treat an inhalation addiction because it trains users to recognize and avoid situations which may drive them to inhale spray paint fumes.

Dangers of Inhaling Spray Paint Fumes

The inhaled toxic chemicals in the paint cans–propellants and solvents–pass from the lungs into the blood system and on to the brain, causing mind-altering effects. The result is like that caused by depressants such as tranquilizers, sedatives, or alcohol, although usually shorter-lasting. The potential negative consequences of huffing paint and the other forms of abuse are extremely dangerous: brain damage, neurological problems, and sudden death. Since the toxic chemical goes into the blood, the adverse impact reaches all organs including heart, liver, and kidneys, as well as into bone marrow. The long-term effects of huffing, sniffing, and bagging include high blood pressure and heart rhythm disruption. One can also suffer from cardiopulmonary arrest, stroke, and permanent pulmonary tissue damage. Some inhalant-induced damage to organ systems may be partially reversible if inhalant abuse ceases. Many syndromes caused by prolonged abuse, however, are irreversible. Abuse of inhalants by pregnant women may result in adverse long-term effects on their infants’ development.

What is Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome?

Sudden sniffing death syndrome (SSDS) is a quick and unexpected death caused by inhalant abuse. The syndrome is characterized by a lack of oxygen to the brain, heart, and other vital organs.

The main causes for SSDS are:

  • Hypoventilation–not breathing enough air in or out of their lungs
  • Hypoxia–insufficient oxygen in the blood
  • Hypercapnia–too much carbon dioxide in the blood
  • Hypothermia–abnormally low body temperature

Short-Term Side Effects

Temporary side effects of huffing, bagging, or sniffing these fumes causes:

  • Intoxication (similar to alcohol intoxication)
  • Slurred speech or loss of coordination
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Impaired judgment
  • Irritability or moodiness
  • Loss of inhibition
  • Drowsiness

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of sniffing, bagging or huffing paint include:

  • Abnormal or excessive eye movements
  • Chemical odor similar to paint thinners on clothes or breath
  • Slurred speech
  • Nausea or appetite loss
  • Unsteady when walking

In addition to physical symptoms, individuals involved with inhalant abuse may develop psychological problems, including extreme mood swings, depression, and paranoia. These co-occurring disorders may also requirement treatment.

Many Teens are Abusing Inhalants

Inhaling chemicals is one of the most common methods of substance abuse by teenagers. Despite concerns about illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and LSD, children are more likely to abuse common household products containing volatile solvents or aerosols. A national survey showed that 21.7 million Americans aged 12 and older used inhalants at least once. Young users whose brains are still developing are less likely to have the thought control to regulate this abuse. If a parent or guardian suspects a youth may be inhaling paint or active in any drug use, they should seek professional help from a doctor or addiction specialist who can recommend treatment options.

Can You Overdose While Inhaling?

Yes, as with other drugs and chemicals, excessive inhaling of aerosol fumes can lead to a toxic reaction that results in serious symptoms, damage to the body, or death. An overdose can happen to otherwise healthy young people the first time they use inhalants.

Overdosing on paint spray may cause:

  • Sudden heart failure
  • Asphyxiation as toxic fumes replace oxygen in the lungs
  • Suffocation from placing a plastic bag over one’s head
  • Seizures due to effect on the brain
  • Coma if the brain shuts down most vital functions
  • Choking on vomit
  • Injuries sustained while under the effects of inhaling fumes

Other Aerosols with Same Danger

In addition to spray paint, other inhalants that can be abused for a high include hair products, deodorants, fabric protectors, computer cleaners, and cooking oils that come in aerosol cans. It is not the labeled product, but the solvents and propellants that cause both the desired effects and the dangers of any substance abuse that involves inhaling fumes.

What are the Chemicals in Spray Paint?

Other Forms Of Inhaling Toluene Acts On Central Nervous System Needs Addiction Treatment | La Hacenda

Butane, propane and freon are some of the chemicals found in spray paint and aerosols. Butane and propane can cause sudden sniffing death syndrome and are very flammable. If the spray or rags come near a flame, serious burns could result. Freon, which is also found in refrigerants, can also cause SSDS, can block the airways from its sudden cooling effect, and can cause liver damage

When Was Spray Paint Invented?

Edward Seymour of Illinois invented spray paint in 1949 (at the suggestion of his wife to fill an aerosol can with paint). He founded Seymour of Sycamore, Inc., to manufacture his spray paints. Naturally, people looking for an easy and inexpensive high soon discovered they could inhale the fumes from the cans of paint. Inhalants abuse increased in 1950s. By the 1960s, this abuse had spread to many commercial products including paint thinners, lighter fluid, nail polish remover and more. In 2011, US companies produced 412 million cans of spray paint.

Addiction Treatment at La Hacienda

Addiction Treatment Center For Substance Use | La Hacenda

For 50 years, La Hacienda Treatment Center has been helping people with a wide variety of addiction problems, including abusing inhalants through methods such as spray paint huffing. La Hacienda’s addiction treatment program includes medically supervised detoxification (if needed), individual and group counseling, physical and mental health services, introduction to the 12-step process, family programs, activity therapy, and continuing care planning. Our professional medical and clinical staff also speak to patients on topics pertinent to their continuing recovery such as the effects of addiction on the brain and prescription drug interactions. La Hacienda Treatment Center is in network with major insurance carriers and our professional staff help settle payment options before admission, removing that concern for patient and family. For more information about drug addiction treatment, phone (800) 749-6160 today and talk with one of our helpful, on-campus admission specialists.

Addiction Treatment For Sniffing Paint | La Hacenda


Inhalants are substances that produce psychoactive effects by being inhaled. Inhalant abuse such as huffing paint can lead to several adverse health effects, including death. The most common type of inhalant is an aerosol spray propellant, but there are many other types such as nitrous oxide (laughing gas), amyl nitrite (“poppers”), butane lighters, gasoline, and even household products like spray paint and whipped cream aerosol cans.

Addiction Treatment For Substance Abuse | La Hacenda

Volatile Solvents

Volatile solvents are substances that vaporize easily at room temperature. These substances are usually organic compounds, and they can be found in a wide range of products. Volatile solvents can be used as industrial solvents, paint thinners, and degreasers.

Dopamine Release Due To Huffing And Chemicals In Paint Provide An Intense High | La Hacenda


Aerosols are the chemicals–propellants–in spray can products. They may be for recreational use or to deliver medication, such as to the lungs in asthma inhalers. Aerosol abuse, such as sniffing or huffing spray paint, has been increasing in recent years. Some experts predict that it will soon become the most common form of drug abuse in the United States.

Licensed Medical Professionals For Substance Use At A Treatment Center | La Hacenda


Nitrite poppers are often used by people who want to get high or experience a “rush.” The nitrite in these poppers can cause a person\’s heart rate to increase and their blood pressure to drop. These drugs can also cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting when abused.