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Risky Behavior: Dangers of Teens Using Household Products Such as Inhalants

Inhalants Can Kill Within Minutes – With Just One Use

If you’re the parent of a teenager, you know there’s a very real chance your child might experiment with alcohol or drug use during their teenage years. Right or wrong, experimenting with intoxicants has become akin to a rite of passage in the U.S. It’s alternatively glorified and vilified in the media, in pop music, on televisions shows, and in movies. For the record, our position is that experimenting with alcohol, drugs, or tobacco is a risky choice that has far too many potential negative outcomes to make it worth it.

In other words, we do not approve.

You may be the same.

However, the statistics show that despite whether we approve or disapprove, it happens. The latest statistics released in the 2020 Monitoring the Future (MTF) Survey reveal that by the end of high school, more than 60 percent of teens have drunk alcohol, more than 40 percent have smoked or vaped marijuana and around 45 percent have vaped nicotine.

We can’t deny the facts. Alcohol and drug use is common, with alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco use leading the way.

However, there’s another class of drugs teens experiment with that many parents don’t know about: household products that can be used as inhalants.

Spoiler alert: inhalants are very dangerous. In fact, one-time use of a household inhalant is far more dangerous than alcohol, marijuana, or tobacco.

What Are Inhalants?

The word inhalant can be somewhat misleading. After all, the primary method of marijuana and tobacco use is inhaling smoke from a cigarette/marijuana cigarette or vapor from a vaping device. In addition, inhaling through the nose – a.k.a. sniffing or snorting – is the most common method of ingestion for drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine.

But that’s not what we mean when we say inhalants or household products that can be misused as intoxicating inhalants.

Inhalants are substances which, when used as intoxicants, people only take by breathing in their fumes.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) identifies four categories of inhalants:

  1. Volatile Solvents. These include:
    • Paint thinner
    • Nail polish remover
    • Degreaser
    • Dry cleaning fluid
    • Gasoline
    • Contact cement (i.e. strong glues)
  2. These include:
    • Spray paint
    • Hairspray
    • Deodorant spray
    • Vegetable oil spray
    • Fabric spray
  3. These appear in many household products, including:
    • Butane lighters
    • Propane tanks
    • Whipped cream dispenser
    • Refrigerants
  4. Typically sold in small brown bottles, these include:
    • Amyl, butyl, and cyclohexyl nitrites
    • Products that are now illegal but still circulating, labeled as room odorizers, video head cleaners, or leather cleaners.

There are other types of inhalants that people use as intoxicants, which can be found in hospitals, factories, industrial worksites, and construction worksites. However, it’s possible to find one or more of the inhalants listed above in any typical household.

The most common method of using inhalants is in the name. They’re inhaled directly through the nose and mouth. In some cases, users will soak a rag with the inhalant, and use that. They may place the rag in a bag. They may also place the container – i.e. paint thinner, glue, nail polish remover – in a bag and open the top. Users call these methods by various names, including huffing or bagging.

The Dangers of Inhalants

Inhalants may seem innocuous, but they aren’t.

They’re very dangerous, both in the short-term and long term.

The short-term effects of inhalants include:

  • Disorientation
  • Nausea
  • Slurred speech
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Hallucination
  • Euphoria


That puts inhalant use in perspective.

We’re not exaggerating.

You need to know that. And your teen needs to know that using an inhalant only once can kill them.

With that said, the long-term negative effects of inhalant use include:

  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Deafness
  • Nerve damage:
    • Brain damage (central nervous system)
    • Developmental delays and impairments (a result of brain damage)
    • Loss of coordination, muscular spasms, loss of control of limbs (a result of peripheral nervous system damage)
  • Bone marrow damage

Fatal overdose from inhalant use is called sudden sniffing death, which we mention above, but not by name. Sudden sniffing death occurs when the heart stops after using an inhalant. This can occur within minutes of use.

Warning Signs of Inhalant Use

The signs of inhalant use are similar, but not identical to, the signs of recreational drug use. They include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Nausea
  • Excessive sweating
  • Extreme mood changes
  • Sleep problems

In addition, if your teen purchases – with no real reason – an unrealistic or unreasonable amount of any of the products listed above as inhalants, that’s a red flag/warning sign of inhalant abuse.

Treatment for Inhalant Addiction

Inhalant addiction is rare but may happen.

If you think your teen uses inhalants and has developed an addiction, we advise you to arrange a full biopsychosocial assessment administered by a mental health professional. Teens with the disordered use of inhalants can find professional treatment and support at teen addiction centers, teen rehab centers, or adolescent addiction treatment centers.

It’s important to understand that treatment for addiction works – and the sooner a teen who needs treatment gets the treatment they need, the better the outcome.

Finding Help: Resources

If you’re seeking treatment for your teen, please navigate to our page How to Find the Best Treatment Programs for Teens and download our helpful handbook, A Parent’s Guide to Mental Health Treatment for Teens.

In addition, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) is an excellent resource for locating licensed and qualified psychiatrists, therapists, and counselors in your area. Both the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness also provide and high-quality online resources, ready and waiting for you right now.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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