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Substance use - inhalants

Substance abuse - inhalants; Drug abuse - inhalants; Drug use - inhalants; Glue - inhalants

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Inhalants are chemical vapors that are breathed in on purpose to get high.

Inhalant use became popular in the 1960s with teens who sniffed glue. Since then, other kinds of inhalants have become popular. Inhalants are used mostly by younger teens and school-age children, although adults sometimes also use them.

Street names for inhalants include air blast, bold, chroming, discorama, glad, hippie crack, moon gas, oz, poor man's pot, rush, snappers, whippets, and whiteout.

Types of Inhalants

Many household products have chemicals that are volatile. Volatile means the chemical produces vapors, which can be breathed in (inhaled). Common types of abused inhalants are:

Ways Inhalants are Used

Inhalants are breathed in through the mouth or nose. Slang terms for these methods are:

Other things that are often used to hold inhalant chemicals include empty soda cans, empty perfume bottles, and toilet paper tubes stuffed with rags or toilet paper soaked with the chemical.

Effects of Inhalants on the Brain

When inhaled, the chemicals are absorbed by the lungs. Within seconds, the chemicals go to the brain, causing the person to feel intoxicated, or high. The high usually involves feeling excited and happy, a feeling similar to being drunk from drinking alcohol.

Some inhalants cause the brain to release dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that is involved with mood and thinking. It is also called the feel-good brain chemical.

Because the high lasts only a few minutes, users try to make the high last longer by inhaling repeatedly for several hours.

Nitrites are different from other inhalants. Nitrites make blood vessels larger and the heart beat faster. This causes the person to feel very warm and excited. Nitrites are often inhaled to improve sexual performance rather than to get high.

Harmful Effects of Inhalants

Chemicals in inhalants can harm the body in many ways, leading to health problems such as:

Inhalants can also be deadly:

People who inhale nitrites have a high chance of getting HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C. This is because nitrites are used to improve sexual performance. People who use nitrites may have unsafe sex.

Inhalants can cause birth defects when used during pregnancy.

Inhalants can be Addictive

People who use inhalants can get addicted to them. This means their mind and body are dependent on the inhalants. They are not able to control their use and they need (crave) them to get through daily life.

Addiction can lead to tolerance. Tolerance means that more and more of the inhalant is needed to get the same high feeling. And if the person tries to stop using the inhalant, reactions may result. These are called withdrawal symptoms and may include:

Physical reactions may include headaches, aches and pains, increased appetite, and not sleeping well.

Signs That Someone is Using Inhalants

It is not always easy to tell if someone is using inhalants. Be alert for these signs:

Treatment Options

Treatment begins with recognizing the problem. The next step is getting help and support.

Treatment programs use behavior change techniques through counseling (talk therapy). The goal is to help the person to understand their behavior and why they use inhalants. Involving family and friends during counseling can help support the person to keep them from going back to using (relapsing).

At this time, there is no medicine that can help reduce the use of inhalants by blocking their effects. But, scientists are researching such medicines.

Ongoing Recovery

As the person recovers, encourage the following to help prevent relapse:


Helpful resources include:

For adults, your workplace employee assistance program (EAP) is also a good resource.

When to Call the Doctor

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you or someone you know is addicted to inhalants and needs help stopping. Also call if you are having withdrawal symptoms that concern you.


Breuner CC. Substance abuse. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 140.

National Institute on Drug Abuse website. Inhalants DrugFacts. Updated April 2020. Accessed August 17, 2022.

Nguyen J, O'Brien C, Schapp S. Adolescent inhalant use prevention, assessment, and treatment: a literature synthesis. Int J Drug Policy. 2016;31:15-24. PMID: 26969125


Review Date: 4/30/2022  

Reviewed By: Fred K. Berger, MD, addiction and forensic psychiatrist, Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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