What are Inhalants?

Inhalants are types of chemical vapors that people inhale for the mind-altering effects they produce in the body. Other substances such as alcohol can be inhaled, but those are not called inhalants. Inhalants refer specifically to chemicals that can only be inhaled to get a “high” feeling.

Inhalants are dangerous substances that can harm a person’s body in a matter of just a few minutes. Most inhalants can be found over the counter in everyday commercial products like cleaning fluids or paint thinner.

Inhalants are typically used by mostly young kids and teenagers. Because inhalants are easier to obtain, they try these types of substance before trying other drugs. They will breathe in the inhalants from a plastic bag, spray them directly in the nose or mouth, or sniff/snort them. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse nearly 21.7 million Americans aged 12 and older have used inhalants at least once in their lives. 

Inhalants belong to many broad categories: gases (ether, nitrous oxide or chloroform), aerosols (hair spray, paint, or deodorant), volatile 5 solvents (gasoline, glue, paint thinner, or correction fluid), and nitrites (amyl nitrite, cyclohexyl nitrite and butyl nitrite). 

Signs of Inhalant Use

Signs that someone is using inhalants include

  • Lack of coordination, inattentiveness, depression, and irritability
  • Hidden empty spray paint or solvent containers and chemical-soaked rags or clothing
  • Paint or other stains on hands, face, or clothes
  • Chemical odors on breath or clothing
  • Red or runny nose or eyes
  • Drunk or disoriented appearance
  • Unsafe sexual practices
  • Nausea or loss of appetite
  • Slurred speech

Types of Inhalants

Inhalants come in different forms. The types of inhalants are:

La Hacienda Treatment - Inhalants
  • Gases, including gas from lighters, whipped cream dispensers, and laughing gas
  • Volatile solvents (Volatile SA3’s) are potentially dangerous products that appear in liquid form but at room temperature evaporate into a gas. They can be found in several household and industrial products like dry-cleaning fluid, felt-tip markers, gasoline, paint thinners, and glue.
  • Nitrites (prescription medicines for chest pain). Nitrites, which are often prescribed to treat chest pain, are misused to improve sexual pleasure. Nitrites dilate blood vessels and relax muscles, unlike other inhalants,
  • Aerosol sprays or spray cans, such as spray paint, some medical anesthetics, deodorant spray, hair spray, correction fluids and vegetable oil sprays

How Do People Use Inhalants?


The inhalant is put inside of a balloon. Then, the substance is inhaled through the mouth out of the balloon.


Usually done with aerosol sprays, the inhalant is sprayed directly into the nose or mouth. This can be done with correction fluid, vegetable sprays or spray paints.

Sniffing or Snorting

Fumes are inhaled directly from the container.


The inhalant is soaked into a paper or plastic bag. The fumes are then inhaled.

What Effects do Inhalants Produce?

There are many factors that determine how inhalants will affect people. Inhalants affect everyone in a different way based upon weight, height and overall health of the person who is using them.

The major side effects of inhalant use include changes in the central nervous system. Inhalants slow down brain activity, often resulting in short term effects of relaxation and euphoria. The most common side effects when users inhale include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of muscle control
  • Impaired judgement
  • Feelings of euphoria
  • Stupor
  • Severe mood swings
  • False beliefs
  • Light-headedness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of coordination
  • Lethargy
  • Intoxication
  • Aggression

Long-term Health Effects

There may be long-term health effects in people who use inhalants including loss of hearing, damage to bone marrow, loss of coordination or spasms in the limb, nerve damage, heart failure, delayed behavioral development from problems in the brain, kidney or liver damage, or brain damage.

What is Sudden Sniffing Death?

When people use inhalants too often and in large amounts, they may experience a toxic reaction or potentially inhalant overdose. This is referred to as “sudden sniffing death.” The effects of inhalants can happen very quickly, in a matter of minutes upon human consumption.

Even a single session of inhalant abuse may lead to death. There is still a risk even for a person that is in perfect health. Absolutely anyone can be affected. It does not matter if they are using an inhalant for the first, tenth, or hundredth time. 

Inhalant Drug Abuse

Inhalant Drug Abuse | La Hacienda

It is not very common to develop a substance use disorder to inhalants, but repeated use may lead to dependence to the drug. Inhalant abuse may cause issues such as health problems or problems with family or work life. Typical symptoms of inhalant drug abuse may include frequently using inhalants to get high, avoiding responsibilities or activities due to drug use, changes in relationships or engaging in risky behaviors.

Withdrawal Symptoms

People who try to quit inhalants may have withdrawal symptoms that include:

  • Nausea
  • Problems sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood changes 
  • Sweating

Withdrawal from inhalants can have symptoms that range from mild to severe depending on how often and how much the person is using. Inhalants can even cause severe withdrawal including brain damage or even death extremely fast after using inhalants.

About La Hacienda Treatment Center

La Hacienda Treatment Center is an addiction treatment center that focuses on alcohol and drug abuse, while treating the client in a serene, therapeutic environment. Some of the services that our drug abuse treatment program offers includes cognitive behavioral therapy, 12 step programs, medical and detoxification services, and other therapeutic activities.

Addiction is a chronic, brain disease that manifests in many ways including complex physical, behavioral, psychological, and spiritual patterns. These symptoms not only affect the person who is struggling with addiction, but the entire family unit. We feel it is important to treat the entire family and continue treatment after recovery is reached.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any type of drug or alcohol addiction, including inhalant abuse, please contact our staff for more information on our treatment programs.